As the rest of the world commemorated Cancer Day yesterday, Zimbabwe continues to grapple with shortage of drugs, cancer equipment, specialists, as well as lack of adequate information to rein in the disease, which is largely preventable.
By Phyllis Mbanje
Stakeholders are calling on the government to seriously work on domestic financing of cancer awareness and prevention which falls under non-communicable diseases (NCDs) and treat it with the diligence accorded to HIV and Aids.
“We are not doing much in addressing this sitting time bomb which requires substantial resources to make a meaningful impact,” Itai Rusike, the director of the Community Working Group on Health (CWGH), said on Wednesday.
Treatment of cancer, which is one of the largest killers in the country, has remained quite costly for the average person and public health facilities remain underfunded and overwhelmed by the number of patients.
“While everyone has a right to health, many people from poor resource settings have no means and no access to treatment,” Rusike said.
Cancer is preventable, but due to inadequate information and awareness campaigns, many people come forward late when it is almost impossible to reverse the damage.
According to a report from the Zimbabwe National Cancer Registry (ZNCR), more than 6 000 cases of cancer were recorded countrywide last year and the bulk of these presented in last two stages of the disease.
Of growing concern is the emergence of childhood cancers. They accounted for more than 3% of the cancers recorded in 2013.
According to research done by Kidzcan Zimbabwe, in 2014, 243 new cases of cancer in children were reported and 106 children died from cancer-related illnesses.
“Although childhood cancers (age 0-14) are a rare condition worldwide, the incidence in Zimbabwe is rather high,” ZNCR registrar Eric Chokunonga said.
A shortage of cancer drugs has also been one of the biggest drawbacks.
Last year provincial and district hospitals throughout the country faced an acute shortage of drugs for cancer, a situation which put the lives of many patients at risk.
Cancer Association of Zimbabwe (CAZ) monitoring and evaluation officer, Lovemore Makurirofa said they were worried about the shortages, adding any disruptions in taking cancer medication might result in treatment failure.
“Cancer treatment involves killing off the harmful cells and so if treatment is stopped before the prescribed cycles, cancer might recur,” he said.
Meanwhile, cancer patients might get some relief after the National Aids Council managed to procure medication and reagents worth half a million dollars.