Historical Background of Cancer Care in Ethiopia

Dr. Wondimagegnehu Tigeneh (Associate Professor of Clinical Oncology)

Radiotherapy service started in Ethiopia before 1960 in Haile Selassie First Hospital (current Yekatit 12 Hospital) by German physician  up to the beginning of 1970 when the Radiotherapy service was transferred to Tikur Anbessa Specialized Hospital(TASH). In the beginning of 1970 TASH Radiotherapy and nuclear department Radiotherapy technologist Mr. Tegabu Agegnehu started External beam radiotherapy service using orthovoltage  DXT 250Kv machine for some type of illnesses; like Keloid, cervical cancer, skin malignancies’ and selected breast cancer patients with the late hematologist Dr. Milkias Shamebo (may his soul rest in peace). According to Mr. Tegabu Some of the gynecology patients used to be sent by senior Gynecologists Dr. Seyoum Yoseph and Dr. Mekonen Bekele.

Subsequently as a joint project with the Ethiopian government and international atomic energy agency (IAEA) the first radiotherapy center was officially inaugurated on October 14, 1997 at TASH. During this time only one oncologist (Dr Bogale Solomon), one medical physicist (Mr Meressa Mijena),  two train

DXT 250Kv (Orthovoltage), the first radiotherapy machine used for treatment in Ethiopia (currently non functional and available at radiotherapy unit, TASH, CHS, AAU, Ethiopia)

ed nurses, two RTT (Solomon Mengistu and the late Teshome (may his soul rest in peace)) took over the treatment of solid malignancies and in the first year of launching services around 300 patients were seen.

Inauguration of radiotherapy joint project between Ethiopian government and International Atomic Energy Agency

The first cobalt machine was imported from China with a support from International Atomic Agency. It was decommissioned after serving for about 10 years due to some maintenance problems. The second cobalt machine was installed and has been in used since then. The picture depicted below show the Cobalt-60 (Co-60) Radiotherapy machine that has been in used since then.

However , the number of patients and the need for more professionals were out of proportion , and it wasn’t  until  2005-2007 that the number of oncologists increased to three, Dr. Wondemagegnhu Tigneh, 2005, Dr. Mathewos Assefa and Dr. Aynalem Abraha ,2007  (See picture below from left to right).

The first 3 consultant clinical Oncologists who started residency program at radiotherapy unit, TASH, CHS, AAU, Dr. Ayinalem Abraha, Dr. Mathewos Assefa, Dr. Wondemagegn Tigeneh

As the incidence of cancer is increasing at an alarming rate till date, it necessitated the need to scale up services which is mainly dependent on skilled professionals.  Subsequently, with a huge contribution of Drs Ayenalem abraha, Mathewos Assefa, Wondemagegnehu Tigeneh, Johan Tausjo, and  Bogale Solomon, a  first of its kind curriculum in clinical oncology was developed in Ethiopia. In December 2010, the first MOU was signed between Oslo University and Addis Ababa University. However, for various reasons, admission to the first group of residents delayed until the spring of 2013. So far 2 batches graduated making a total of 10 oncologists. Currently the Department of clinical oncology has 37 residents, 5 senior oncologists, 3 medical physicists, 6 RTT, 7 pharmacists and 33 nurses in the provision of both outpatient and inpatient services with its 33 beds. In addition to the existing Co-60 and the Brachytherapy machines, a linear accelerator (LINAC) was installed (only mechanical installation ) few months ago, but still far from being fully functional.

By Dr. Wondimagegnehu Tigeneh, Dr Abdu adem and Dr. Wongel Tsegaye 


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