In the health sector there is concern because diagnostic tests to detect and monitor cancer are stopped because the raw material to make radiopharmaceuticals has not arrived in Colombia. This has been alerted by the Colombian Association of Nuclear Medicine as well as the Colombian Association of Medical Physics.
SEMANA has followed up on the problem and learned for the first time about the first census carried out by the specialists. Already 85% of the country’s nuclear medicine units are affected, because they do not have technetium 99, a substance used to make scintigraphs, and they do not have iodine 131, which is required in thyroid cancer treatments.
At this time there are at least 3,000 affected patients throughout the country, since it is the average that they stop attending monthly. The plants that produce this substance in Europe and that distribute to Colombia stopped activity due to technical issues. Initially, it was estimated that the main supplier would turn on the nuclear reactor the last week of november Now, through a statement, they reported that the operation could start in the first week of December, which indicates that the material to manufacture the radiopharmaceuticals would begin to arrive in Colombia, at least 5 days after production restarts.
Those that concern specialists, apart from the affectations that late diagnoses can bring to a patient, There is also talk of economic effects on the union, since the nuclear medicine centers had to stop activities. The unions assure that this problem could be stopped if Colombia manufactured the product as most Latin American countries do or if it had action plans that would allow the countries of the region to buy the substance.
Emperatriz Angarita, president of the Association of Nuclear Medicine, confirmed to SEMANA that at this time 13 cities, most of them intermediate and capital cities in the country, reported not having a single unit of technetium 99. And that they completely stopped patient care. The cities are: Pereira, Armenia, Palmira, Popayán, Tuluá, Manizales, Pasto, Bucaramanga, Cartagena, Medellín, Cali and Barranquilla.
“Medellín has already entered a very important stop. The announcement is that they will no longer be able to work, affecting the entire Aburrá Valley, because they do not have radioactive material,” Angarita said. On the other, she confirmed that in Bogotá the radioactive has run out in some centers.
The specialist stated: “We are very concerned that on Monday the head of nuclear medicine of the National Institute of Cancerology, a super important place for being guarantors of the care of many patients in Bogotá and outside of Bogotá, he has no material to work with. He’s already on strike. Imagine how serious it is if it is the main care center in our country for cancer care.”
For the president of the Nuclear Medicine Association, Invima has to act immediately, since the entity stated as soon as SEMANA made the complaint public that there is no shortage, but for Angaria it is necessary that beyond the semantics used by the entity , actions are taken because a unit that does not have these radiopharmaceuticals cannot act and this substance, due to the complexity of its manufacture, cannot be rotated between cities or care centers, as would happen with a traditional drug.
Molybdenum-99 is a technetium-99 generator. This substance, like radiopharmaceuticals, has a very few days of life. Molybdenum-99 lasts for 66 hours, then it loses its functionality.
For his part, the doctor Camilo Prieto, researcher of the Nuclear Affairs group of the Colombian Geological Service and professor of energy and sustainability at the Javeriana University, Colombia is not self-sufficient in the production of radiopharmaceuticals. “The country needs a reactor that has the power to develop isotopes for medical purposes. For this, it is essential to implement a law on nuclear safety and radiological protection”.
Precisely this week in which the crisis in the sector worsens, delegates of the Commission of the action program for cancer therapy (Impact), of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) are already in the country, what image is will they take?