The Elekta Training Centre at Tygerberg Hospital in Cape Town is delivering world-class training to a growing number of medical and biomedical engineering professionals from across Africa to deal with an expected increase in the number of cancer patients.

Since opening their advanced medical training facility in October 2015, the unit has successfully trained 80 medical and biomedical engineering professionals from across Africa on advanced cancer treatment techniques – 25 of them specifically on the use of the digital linear accelerator. The digital linear accelerator allows for precisely targeted treatment and limited exposure of normal healthy tissue, to minimise potential side effects.

The medical training facility is a collaborative agreement between Elekta, the Swedish manufacturer of specialist oncology radiotherapy and radiosurgery equipment, and Tygerberg Hospital for Clinical Education support.

The number of patients diagnosed with cancer is increasing across the African continent. “In ten years it will have doubled from 600,000 to over a million as cancer awareness improves and the population life expectancy increases. So we have to be prepared,” said Head of Radiation Oncology at Tygerberg Hospital, Prof Hannah Simmonds.

According to the Training Director at Elekta, Trevor Sparkes, Elekta’s main objective is to address the shortage of trained radiation professionals in Africa.

“In fact it is critical, because the highly technical equipment must be used correctly, but the lack of clinicians and equipment-trained radiotherapy professionals can impede the delivery of effective radiation therapy services,” said Sparkes.

Sparkes added that a recently signed agreement with Tygerberg Hospital will henceforth allow trainees at the hospital to receive hands-on training at the centre.

“This is a huge step forward in that trainees that are part of clinical education programmes at the hospital will have the unique opportunity to come here and do practical training on our systems,” said Sparkes.

According to Sparkes, the access that cancer patients in low income countries have to radiotherapy equipment is unacceptably low. “More such machines are needed in the public health systems of many African countries,” said Sparkes.

“Therefore we are committed to making radiotherapy more accessible and continue to invest in training and education on the continent,” continued Sparkes.

Tygerberg Hospital’s Oncology Unit is one of only two state units furnished with advanced oncology radiotherapy equipment to serve around four million people in the Western Cape. The unit currently treats around 2,500 patients a year, with this number expected to increase year on year.

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