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On Wednesday 20th April, 2022, treatment for patients suffering from diseases of the thyroid resumed at the Queen Elizabeth Hospital’s (QEH) Clara Brathwaite Centre for Oncology and Nuclear Medicine after an unprecedented two-and-a-half-year service disruption resulting from a global shortage of radioactive iodine and worsened by the travel restrictions caused by COVID-19 pandemic.
Due to the inability to source radioactive iodine, a vital component for the treatment of hyperthyroidism and thyroid cancer, from international suppliers, the QEH was forced to temporarily suspend this service. During this time, patients suffering from these diseases continued to be treated with medications to suppress their symptoms. However, with the recent return of this limited supply of radioactive iodine, patients are being scheduled to receive their outstanding radioiodine treatments. These treatments are to be rolled out in phases as a result of the strict regulations associated with the purchase and importation of this hazardous substance which only allows for the shipment of one 12.5 millilitre vial of the radioactive iodine containing 200 millicuries in any one delivery.
Corey Drakes, Medical Physicist at the QEH explains that patients on the waiting list were reviewed by the Oncology doctors and a clinical decision was made to treat patients with hyperthyroidism in the first phase of the programme. Adding that those awaiting treatment for thyroid cancer will be addressed in the programme’s second phase, Drakes indicates that the Department has developed a plan to maximize the limited supply of iodine, and “patients with thyroid cancer can expect to receive treatment in about four weeks.” He explains that this lull between receiving the first batch of radioactive iodine and the second would allow for better treatment of patients with thyroid cancer as “the thyroid cannot differentiate between regular iodine and radioactive iodine, and after starving it of iodine for a minimum of four weeks, the radioactive iodine will be more effective in fighting the thyroid cancer when we receive the next batch.”
As travel restrictions continue to lift and countries open back up, it is anticipated that the QEH will be able to receive a continuous supply of the radioactive iodine needed to treat these vulnerable patients. Executive Chairman, Mrs. Juliette Bynoe-Sutherland extends her gratitude to Dr. the Honourable Sonia Browne whom she indicates assisted with strong arming the situation and “lent her advocacy and support to resolving the issue”. The Executive Chairman adds that, “being able to resolve this issue for patients and staff has been a very satisfying experience”, noting that the teams in Radiotherapy and the Ear Nose and Throat (ENT) Departments were pleased with this development.