How Elekta is providing state-of-the-art cancer treatment to patients in Namibia
Namibian cancer patients requiring specialized radiation therapy will no longer have to travel to South Africa for their treatment, with the opening of the new Namibian Oncology Centre equipped with the country’s first Elekta digital linear accelerator.
The private Namibian Oncology Centre is set to open in Windhoek later this year. Built and equipped with funding from Spitz Healthcare Investments, the centre will have chemotherapy, laboratory, pharmacy and in-patient facilities as well as the first digital linear accelerator radiation treatment in Namibia.
The centre’s radiation unit, with the capacity to treat up to 50 patients a day, will bring to Namibia highly specialized treatment never before available in the country. The only other radiation treatment available in Namibia is at the state hospital in Windhoek, which uses an older, cobalt radiation unit.
The new linear accelerator offers a wider scope of treatment protocols utilizing multiple energies capable of addressing a large variety of cancers.
A team of specialists, including oncologists, radiation therapists, nurses and support staff, is now in place to staff the new centre. One of the team’s oncologists, Dr. Elré van Heerden, notes that the benefits of the new unit will extend to patients beyond Namibia’s borders, as a number of private patients from Angola are also expected to seek treatment at the facility.
Martin Noordman, service partner manager for Sub-Saharan Africa at Elekta South Africa, said the Digital Linear Accelerator offers a wider scope of treatment protocols offering multiple energies capable of addressing a large variety of cancers, in a recent press release.
Noordam explained that the Elekta Synergy Platform with a sophisticated ultra-conformal field shaping with a fully integrated multileaf collimator allows for highly targeted radiation. Higher energies are important in the case of deep tumors or large patients. Elekta Digital Linear Accelerators allow health practitioners to limit the radiation exposure of normal tissue and so limit the side effects of treatment.
Dr. van Heerden believes this is a key benefit of the new Elekta linear accelerator and advanced treatment planning capability.
“This equipment allows for highly targeted radiation treatment with limited damage to healthy tissue. This is crucial in curative treatment in particular, because with the ability to cure more patients, we need to ensure the treatment has as little long term impact on healthy tissue as possible,” he said.
RELATED TOPIC: 3 pharmaceutical giants on the road to curing cancer
Noordman says the arrival of Elekta’s highly advanced linear accelerator in Namibia could ease the burden on the state’s oncology facility through a possible public-private partnership in future, as well as delivering a number of benefits to private patients who previously might have had to travel to major centres in South Africa for specialised treatment.
“Typical cancer treatments would entail daily treatments for six weeks,” said Dr. van Heerden. “Thus travelling thousands of kilometres to another country for treatment entails significant cost and disruption for patients, but crucially—it also separates them from their emotional support base at home at a time when they need it the most.”
The role of tech in public healthcare
Patient backlogs, aging populations, increasing amounts of data, the COVID-19 pandemic and a workforce experiencing burnout are just some of the challenges the world's hospitals are experiencing.
Switching to cloud-based digital systems provided by a third party, like electronic health records (EHR) and e-prescriptions, is an obvious solution. According to Peter Springfield, Cloud Product Manager at Node4, all healthcare providers will need to make this change eventually. "Over time, as legacy technology gets older and the demands placed on it increase, storage systems often can’t keep up" he says. "There comes a point for every healthcare organisation when existing IT simply won’t meet its needs anymore. Instead, healthcare facilities need full, near-instant availability of data to make effective decisions and provide good patient care."
Patient data must be readily accessible when needed, stored in a regulation-compliant environment, while remaining cost effective. But how does a paper-based hospital with an overstretched workforce manage this process, while keeping data safe from cyber attacks? By finding a company that can provide the right solution, and working in partnership with them.
Moving to the cloud
The challenge in healthcare, Springfield says, is that many organisations have siloed pools of data stored in separate repositories. "Often, these systems don’t scale well and don’t have the security protections necessary to meet today’s requirements."
"Cloud-based storage can scale as high as required. The best cloud vendors also assure high availability and good performance. And because organisations pay only for the capacity they use with cloud-based storage, costs can be lower. As a result, the cloud model also allows healthcare organisations to store and access all data associated with a specific patient, procedure or business unit in one place."
Another option is to choose Storage as a Service (STaaS). "This is where a third-party provider owns and manages the storage infrastructure, while the healthcare facility can dictate rules on storage, retention and access, along with service level requirements. This structure means that healthcare facilities can access storage on-demand, paying only for the amount they use, without worrying about buying, managing and maintaining physical devices."
Most healthcare providers are choosing a hybrid model, which allows them to use the cloud for everything except the most sensitive data. "Because security and privacy are critical issues for healthcare organisations, the temptation is to keep everything on-premises" Springfield says. "While that can make sense for especially sensitive workloads and applications because it provides tighter controls, it may not be viable for the longer term, as the amount of data that must be managed and stored continues growing."
Keeping patient data secure is not just crucial for the patients, but for the healthcare provider too. Ransomware attacks - where a hacker demands money in exchange for not releasing private data - have risen dramatically in recent years, particularly since the COVID-19 pandemic began. In 2020 alone these rose by 55%, costing almost $21 billion in downtime.
Healthcare providers' inhouse IT departments may not have the knowledge or the resources needed to combat sophisticated attacks, making it necessary to partner with trusted cybersecurity companies.
"Healthcare organisations are moving away from doing everything themselves and doing a lot of outsourcing in the cloud" says Terry Ray, Senior Vice President at cybersecurity firm Imperva. "They may have been running Cerner as their electronic medical record system for 15 years for example, but many are now shifting to say, "why am I running Cerner? Why don't I just pay Cerner to run Cerner? They can enter their data into Cerner's EMR and let it be their problem."
"The field is getting larger and larger, and the enterprise and scope of what needs to be secured is getting bigger" he adds. "You can't have gaps in security. Organisations must look at everything."
While security and data storage are two typical areas where public healthcare providers lean on the tech sector, another has been emerging since the pandemic: telehealth. As well as providing access to doctor appointments during the successive lockdowns caused by COVID-19, telemedicine can help deliver healthcare to remote or rural locations that lack health facilities.
Virtual care solutions are wide-ranging, from Vodafone supplying the connectivity for IoT devices that help elderly people living on remote Greek islands to monitor their diabetes, to TytoCare's portable device that enables doctors to travel to remote regions and examine the heart, lungs, throat, and body temperature of patients using artificial intelligence.
Busy doctors' surgeries are using digital platforms to help them triage patients - such as eConsult, a digital platform used by the British National Health Service (NHS) in primary and emergency care to assess which patients need to urgently speak to a clinician.
As with all tech solutions, security and data privacy are vital. "The potential for technology to improve healthcare is almost limitless" Springfield says "The key is remembering where it starts and ends - with data."
- This article appears in the August issue of Healthcare