‘Declare cancer national disaster’

HARARE – As Zimbabwe’s  death toll from cancer  sharply rises, calls to declare it a national disaster are getting louder.

This comes amid a growing fear that unless government immediately declares an emergency situation on cancer treatment, several cancer patients who cannot afford treatment may just resign their fate to death.

The palpable fear and concern was expressed to Health and Child Care deputy minister Aldrin Musiiwa on World Cancer Day commemorations in Harare on Friday by a teeming population of cancer patients.

Donance Kangausavi, who has undergone cancer treatment, said government should intervene and assist victims grappling with steep treatment costs.

“I am HIV positive and have been living with it for 26 years easily.  I was also diagnosed with cancer and I can testify that is it not something to play with, inorwadza (its painful).

“We are appealing to you minister (Musiiwa) to have this disease declared a national disaster,” Kangausavi said.

“We are going to be meeting as the Zimbabwe Cancer Network on the 4th of March to declare it a national disaster and present to you a petition for you to declare it a national disaster.”

Musiiwa said there was need to step up awareness on the disease, saying early screening was the most crucial part in its treatment.

“In Zimbabwe cancer is a major cause of morbidity and mortality with over 5 000 new diagnoses and over 1 500 deaths per year,” Musiiwa said.

The most commonly diagnosed cancers among all Zimbabweans were cervical cancer (18 percent), Kaposi sarcoma (10 percent), breast cancer (7 percent), and prostate cancer (7 percent), non-Hodgkin lymphoma (6 percent), nonmelanoma skin cancer (6 percent), esophageal cancer (4 percent), colorectal cancer (4 percent), and squamous cell carcinoma of the conjunctiva (3 percent).

“As cancer is killing the most productive group (30-70 years old), it poses greater challenge to human and health development.

“Sadly it is estimated that cancer will double over the next 20 to 40 years, having a great negative impact on developing nations, in which Zimbabwe is sadly part of,” Musiiwa said.

The most commonly diagnosed cancers in men and women combined were lung, breast and colorectal cancers.

Cancer, which harms the body when altered cells divide uncontrollably to form lumps or masses of tissue called tumours,  kills more people annually than HIV, malaria and tuberculosis combined.

Kidzcan executive director Ntombi Muchuchuti —  in a speech read on her behalf by the organisation’s monitoring and evaluation officer Abraham Mapfumo — said most children were failing to access cancer treatment due to steep costs.

According to the Health and Child Care ministry, radiotherapy costs between $3 000 and $4 000 for a whole session. Chemotherapy costs between $100 to $1 000 per cycle depending on the stage the cancer is, and a cancer patient may need a minimum of six cycles and these can go up to 12.

“The current challenges in addressing cancer in children are limited funding and centralised cancer treatment services,” he said.

Specialised medical services are still centralised in the two largest cities in Zimbabwe. The diagnosis and treatment of most cancers require specialist services such as surgeons, interventional radiologists, pathologists,  and sometimes patients travel long distances to access these services.

“Children from all over the country are travelling to Parirenyatwa (General Hospital) to seek treatment services,” Mapfumo said.

Because most patients with cancer in Zimbabwe present with advanced disease, most need some form of chemotherapy. But the local pharmaceutical industry does not manufacture these drugs, so depend on imports.

Amid a crippling foreign currency crisis, chemotherapy drug supplies have become erratic, making it difficult to plan the patient’s care path, which, in turn, greatly affects treatment outcomes. – Daily News

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