AFTER YEARS of dedicated work and considerable perseverance, the Associação Oncológica do Algarve (AOA) has announced that the long-awaited and much-needed radiotherapy unit in Faro will begin operating this month, with the inauguration set to take place on June 29 at 6pm.
No longer will cancer patients in the Algarve be forced to travel to Lisbon to have their radiotherapy treatment, a situation that has seen them enduring an undesirable and sometimes painful journey. At one stage, it appeared that the radiotherapy unit would open in June last year, but the licensing process and necessary safety inspections took a lot longer than the AOA first expected. Representatives from public health entities and local authorities are expected to attend the official ceremony next week.
The radiotherapy unit is situated close to Praceta do Rodolfo, a residential area in Faro, on land donated by Faro Câmara. It is the only radiotherapy facility south of the River Sado and boasts state-of-the-art equipment and a multi-skilled team. A total of 1.25 million euros was spent on building the unit, with capital coming from funds raised by the AOA, the Algarve’s 16 councils and an amount granted from the European Union, while the unit’s medical equipment was supplied through a private sponsor. As well as a large radiotherapy treatment room, the unit also boasts a computerised tomography room (TAC), three consulting rooms and a nurses’ area. There is a special entrance for ambulances, a ramp for easy wheelchair and stretcher access, and ample parking space. The radiotherapy unit boasts a modern, open plan design and is very light and airy, with lots of windows and glass panels. It offers spacious seating areas, as well as a café, clearly being designed to offer patients and their accompanying family members every possible comfort. “It was our concern that the building would be designed in such a way to allow as much natural daylight in as possible, because we felt this would encourage a feeling of optimism among patients and their families, and the unit’s staff. We have tried to make the centre as welcoming, attractive and comfortable as possible,” Dr, Santos, Pereira, president of the AOA told The Resident when the building was completed last year.
According to the AOA’s research, there are 200 new cancer cases in the Algarve every year and scores of existing sufferers trying to fight the disease. Therefore, the setting up of a radiotherapy unit in the Algarve has been long overdue. “Many patients don’t want to leave their homes (to travel up to Lisbon), don’t receive treatment and so mortality rates are high. It is very sad,” Dr. Pereira told The Resident. Now, with the radiotherapy unit finally opening at the end of this month, the AOA hopes that this situation will be turned around and that a real difference can be made.
At the end of 2005, it seemed the radiotherapy unit might never open its doors. The AOA had been dealt a hammer blow by the Direçcão-Geral de Saúde (DGS), the national health authority, in the shape of a five-year limit on operating the radiotherapy unit. Apparently, the DGS decided on the short opening period, as it said that the AOA’s unit would be in direct competition with a radiotherapy facility at the planned Hospital Central do Algarve at Parque das Cidades (the construction of which has still not begun), to be operated by a public-private partnership.
Due to this, the cost of building the radiotherapy unit and recruitment of the medical team could not be justified, if it would only be open for five years, and, at that time, the sponsor for the medical equipment looked likely to pull out. However, out of the blue, just after Christmas 2005, the Ministry of Health made a U-turn decision, writing to the AOA to confirm that it had no objection to the long-term running of its unit.
In April of this year, following repeated calls for the radiotherapy unit to be opened without further delay, and negative media reports blaming the local health authority for the wait, the Administração Regional de Saúde (ARS) do Algarve issued a press statement to clarify its position. It declared that the licensing process, with regard to the unit, was proceeding according to schedule and that it was only awaiting the final report from the Instituto Tecnológico e Nuclear (ITN), the entity responsible for ensuring that the unit complies with the EURATOM directive (health and safety guidelines). ARS Algarve insisted: “The Ministry for Health is not, in any shape or form, blocking the opening of the radiotherapy unit.” The health authority concluded its explanation by saying: “The legal process and the Directive’s recommendations are being followed in order to protect the health of the workers, the population in general and the patients, in light of the use of radiation, albeit for therapeutic purposes.”
For further information about the activities of the Associação Oncológica do Algarve, call 289 807 531 or visit www.aoa.pt