Top hospital in radiation storm • 12 patients, including pregnant woman, exposed • Concerns over cancer, sterility, cataracts raised

Source: Top hospital in radiation storm • 12 patients, including pregnant woman, exposed • Concerns over cancer, sterility, cataracts raised | The Herald

Paidamoyo Chipunza Senior Health Reporter
Harare Central Hospital has come under fire for reportedly exposing 12 patients, including a pregnant woman, to the effects of ionising radiation, The Herald can reveal.

Radiation effects can lead to cancer induction, sterility, cataracts as well as manifestation of genetic or hereditary effects that can contribute to children being born with defects.

At high levels of exposure, one can experience blood changes, radiation burns, nausea and even death.

The hospital’s actions contravene sections of the Radiation Protection Act and Medical Licensing Regulations.

Information gathered by The Herald showed that the hospital installed a CT Scanner serial number 9531 sometime in May this year and invited patients through social media requiring CT Scan to come in for free services.

“Harare hospital is doing CT scans for free this week. If you know anyone who needs one, kindly tell them to go with their CT scan request and medical records,” reads the WhatsApp message.

At least 12 patients — including a pregnant woman and four children below the age of 10 years — responded to the call for free CT scan, which were all done at the hospital despite it having no valid licence to install and use radiation in accordance with the law.

The Radiation Protection Act 14 (a) reads: “No practice shall be adopted, introduced, conducted, discontinued or ceased and no radiation source within a practice shall as applicable, be mined, milled, processed, designed, manufactured, constructed, assembled, acquired, imported, exported, distributed, sold, loaned, hired, received, sited, located, commissioned, possessed, used, operated, maintained, repaired, transferred, decommissioned, disassembled, transported, stored or disposed of except in accordance with prescribed requirements.”

Section 15 (c) further reads: “For purposes of this Act, any department of Government, public or statutory body, or board or local authority, which for the purpose of performing its functions, uses or is required to use radiation shall comply with the provisions of this Act and any prescribed requirements in the same manner and to the same extent as any other person using radiation.”

Sources at HCH alleged that apart from having no licence, the hospital failed to notify regulatory authorities of their intention to import, possess or use a CT scanner in line with local requirements.

It is further alleged that the room that housed the machine was also not design-approved by local authorities to conduct such high risk practice.

The equipment was also not assessed locally to ensure safety for patients, workers and the public, fully exposing all those who took part in the free programme to the effects of ionising radiation, which include different types of cancers.

The hospital is also facing allegations of failing to inform physicians and machine operators of the patients’ conditions.

Without dismissing allegations of contravening the law, HCH chief executive officer Ms Peggy Zvavamwe, said no patients were put at risk because quality assurance tests were done by both the manufacturer and the hospital’s own physicists.

“They (manufacturer) only handover such equipment for use when they have done necessary quality checks, including simulations on mannequins (dummies), and are ready to guarantee these.

“Having followed such a process they handed over the CT scanner equipment to HCH for us to begin user orientation under their watchful eye,” said Ms Zvavamwe.

She said locally, counter verification was done by their own nuclear physicist.

“Of importance is the fact that this verification confirmed that configuration had been done to the acceptable parameters by the installation team from the manufacturer and no adjustments were made on the original settings attesting to the assured safety issues.

“We do not say this to justify any procedural omissions that may have been made in terms of existing radiation protection laws but just to give assurance that no client or staff of ours was put at risk,” said Ms Zvavamwe.

She said the procedural oversight in using radiation equipment was acknowledged and the hospital had since presented its evidence to the Radiation Protection Authority of Zimbabwe for verification and possible licencing .

“We await release of our license, which we expect soon so that this much needed technology is availed to our clients,” she said.

RPAZ chief executive officer Mr Reward Severa, yesterday said it was important for all those who deal with radiation, including Government departments to observe the law because it was put in place to keep patients safe from the effects of radiation.

“Medical facilities that do not follow the law are not only putting patients at risk, they are also compromising on the occupational health and safety of medical personnel as well as exposing the public that visits these facilities accompanying patients,” said Mr Severa.

Radiation technologies are useful in a number of applications that contribute to socio-economic development.

In Zimbabwe, radiation technologies are used in industrial process control, diamond sorting, agriculture, baggage screening, veterinary, dental and medical radiology, nuclear medicine and radiotherapy.

However, exposure to ionising radiation is known to have adverse effects on people, both present and future generations and the environment, hence the need to regulate its use.