T&T Govt to seek international help over cancer centre radiation claims

(Trinidad Express) Health Minister Dr Fuad Khan yesterday said the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) will be re-contacted in a matter of weeks to conduct a formal accident report into the allegations of radiation overexposure at the Brian Lara Cancer Treatment Centre.

Khan had a two-hour meeting with facility controller Dr Kongshiek Achong Low at the Ministry of Health, Park Street, Port of Spain, yesterday and while he did not speak with the media after the meeting, he issued a release detailing the action plan going forward.

Achong Low is the chairman of Medcorp Ltd which controls the Brian Lara Cancer Treatment Centre.

Khan, in the media release, said the he “will engage the services of the IAEA Assistance Mission to conduct a formal accident report”.

“Which will determine the consequences or potential consequences from the point of view of the protection or safety from any unintended event, including operating errors, equipment failures and other mishaps,” he said.

The issue was first reported exclusively by the Sunday Express in August 2010. Since then several patients came forward to air their specific cases in an ongoing investigation by the Express.

By April 2012, it was again reported in this newspaper that 91 of the 223 patients had died, among then the owner of the popular Smokey and Bunty bar in St James, Ricardo “Smokey” McKenzie.

McKenzie died in December 2010 at a hospital in Florida following radiation treatment for a brain tumour and his widow had since called on the Ministry of Health to release the PAHO report on the Cancer Treatment Centre.

Khan said the ministry is also currently seeking IAEA membership through the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Communications. Membership will ensure the centre benefits from further international support in other areas as well.

He said in January, the IAEA spent five days visiting the country at the request of his ministry. Their aim, Khan said, was to undertake a medical examination and assessment of the patient group that may have been overexposed to radiation while receiving treatment.

He said a possible ten per cent of 223 patients may have faced overexposure.

The IAEA also provided medical advice on treatment and evaluated the extent to which past recommendations made by the Government were implemented.

But while Khan requested the return of the IAEA for another independent evaluation, Achong Low stood behind the findings of the last IAEA report which was given to reporters last month.

“The report said the doses of radiation given to all was within the context normally given and what we saw was within the commonly accepted incidents of side effects,” Achong Low said yesterday after the meeting.

“Obviously in terms of what has transpired, we would consider it sensationalisation of the matter that does not need to be that way,” he said.

Despite the differing views, Achong Low described a “cordial meeting” and said they would abide by the minister’s decision on the matter.

“The Centre has nothing to hide and has never hidden anything. We had open and frank discussions with the minister and basically clarified everything,” he said.

Khan said he had to get Cabinet approval before he could formally engage the IAEA for another evaluation visit. The final report should be ready weeks after that visit.

“This will take a few weeks after the terms and conditions of this evaluation by this independent body,” he said yesterday.


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