He said that “planning for cancer is planning for the future,” and for that reason the health department needed to invest in new technology to diagnose and treat these diseases.
The National Research Foundation (NRF), which runs the iThemba laboratory, had approached the minister to request funding for a more modern and dedicated particle accelerator, also known as a cyclotron, which could be used to treat cancerous tumours.
Using proton therapy, the machine blasts and reduces tumours, especially those in awkward places, without damaging surrounding healthy tissue. Proton therapy accelerates a charged particle to enormous speeds and then directs it to a targeted area on the human body.
The iThemba centre is the only place on the African continent that offers proton therapy, and its cyclotron is in great demand by researchers. Therefore health specialists at the centre only had access to it four months of the year, limiting the days open for treatment and the number of patients that benefit from it.
NRF CEO Albert van Jaarsveld said that by investing in a new machine for its iThemba Laboratory, many more patients with cancerous tumours would be able to take advantage of its neutron and proton therapy.
Commercial proton therapy cost between R165 000 and R413 000 overseas. The price of a cyclotron ran into hundreds of millions of rands.
After a tour of the facility, Motsoaledi said that he will be working on a plan on how departments within the Ministry will cooperate in order to help the facility with doctors, training and funds.
He said cancer patients were a priority and that the department also recently launched a cancer registry to track affected patients.
Motsoaledi said the registry would ensure patients did not "fall off the radar", and track the incidence, distribution, and control of the disease.