Deputy Prime Minister Thokozani Khupe’s call to government to accord cancer the same status given to HIV and Aids should not be taken lightly. Khupe, a breast cancer patient herself, was right to give the government a wakeup call to the severity of the disease that is wreaking havoc among Zimbabweans today.
Research has reportedly unearthed that Zimbabwe records a staggering 70 000 new cases of cancer annually. Cancer, like HIV and Aids, is now a reality the nation cannot afford to wish away. It has been noted that the most prevalent types of the disease are cervical and breast cancer in women and prostate cancer in men.
Cancer treatment in Zimbabwe is so expensive that the majority cannot afford it. Only top government officials and politicians who receive treatment outside the country have better chances of survival against the disease.
Khupe was right to express sadness at the situation when she said: “I wonder how some other women are able to survive with cancer because we have an example of civil servants who have the disease and are supposed to part with $450 a month for treatment yet they only get $300.”
We shudder to think of what is happening in the rural areas with regard to those suffering from the disease. Most of them would be ignorant of the nature of the diseases afflicting them.
What this means is that the government, by watching various types of cancer literally eat their way into the health of the majority, is silently condemning them to death. The call for a cancer levy or some such action to assist the majority to access treatment is not misplaced.
The situation is compounded by the fact that government hospitals lack cancer treatment and people have to travel to Parirenyatwa Hospital in Harare or Mpilo Hospital in Bulawayo for chemotherapy. The sad irony is that radiotherapy machines at these hospitals are not reliable as they often break down.
The Health ministry should come up with a plan so that people can go for cancer tests to detect the disease in its formative stages for early treatment. It should be the government’s duty to ensure that programmes to promote the prevention and early detection of cancer are rolled out to communities — both urban and rural.
Cancer patients, like those infected with HIV, need psychosocial support during diagnosis and treatment and it is incumbent upon the government to come up with a plan to facilitate such support.
The government, as it does with ARTs, should ensure that cancer patients, particularly those from poor backgrounds who are the majority, should have easy access to cancer drugs.
We are fully behind Khupe’s wakeup call to government because the detection and treatment of cancer should not be the preserve of politicians—using taxpayers’ money — who travel to sophisticated medical centres outside the country for chemotherapy. All cancer patients should be given equal opportunities for treatment.