‘Children with paediatric cancers have a 20% survival rate’

Children with paediatric cancers

CHILDREN with prevalent paediatric cancers in Zimbabwe are said to have a 20% survival rate due to poverty, and lack of knowledge on the part of parents and healthcare workers on the malignant disease.

Speaking during the International Childhood Cancer Day, KIDZCAN executive director Daniel Mckenzie said survival rates of cancer in the country were among the worst as parents sought cheaper alternative treatments first.

The most common cancers in Zimbabwe include retinoblastoma, which is cancer of the eyes, leukaemia, solid tumours, cancer of the bone, brain and kidney cancer.

Experts say children continue to die from these because of late presentations and unavailability and high costs of drugs.

“We have a 20% survival rate of cancer in children due to about 60% of patients who seek alternative treatment first, for example, traditional healers due to lack of knowledge in childhood cancers. Most parents take the first symptoms of cancer in children as a reaction that will go early. There is also limited access to care and services due to poverty and decentralisation, all due to unavailability and high costs of drugs,” Mckenzie said.

He said Zimbabwe had only two qualified full-time oncologists and one paediatric centre, which is a challenge for most children with cancer, particularly those living outside Harare.

“It is not about screening, it’s about raising awareness and the right diagnostics. There is also the challenge of the economic situation in the country. All children who suffer from cancer come to Parirenyatwa Hospital to get services.”

He said government promised to allocate a budget towards childhood cancer.

“On February 4, we celebrated World Cancer Day and part of Vice-President (and Health and Child Care minister) Constantino Chiwenga’s speech was that government, through the fiscus, would support childhood cancer by allocating a budget.”

Government has been pushing towards a 60% cancer survival target through the Department of Non-Communicable Diseases in the Health ministry, which is in the process of revising oncology guidelines for use by district and provincial doctors.

Mckenzie said on average, his organisation supported about 800 children with cancer every year.

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