BY METHEMBE SIBANDA POOR cancer treatment services in Zimbabwe are worrying health experts as patients continue to needlessly lose their lives.
While two in four people in the developed world survive cancer for 10 years or more due to advanced research on the disease, in Zimbabwe — where an estimated over 5 000 new cancer cases are diagnosed annually — cancer patients survive shorter periods because of poor service.
Current cancer treatment services in the country are unable to meet demand due to lack of equipment.
Community Working Group on Health executive director Itai Rusike told NewsDay that most cancer patients continue to lose their lives due to inadequate health financing and poor equipment at the country’s hospitals.
The lucky ones, who have the finances, are able to seek treatment in neighbouring countries such as South Africa.
Rusike said radiotherapy machines at public health institutions had not been working for the past six months, exposing cancer patients to heavy costs at private hospitals offering radiotherapy services.
“It is sad that we continue losing lives through avoidable and preventable deaths due to inadequate health financing in our public institutions, poor equipment, lack of tools of the trade and generally low morale among health workers,” Rusike said.
“The cost effectiveness of intervening early in managing cancer conditions is investment in equipment and early interventions that can avoid cost escalations. Progress towards universal health coverage means that more people, especially the poor who are currently at greatest risk of not receiving the critical care needed for cancer patients should get the services they need.”
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Rusike urged government to improve health financing in order to help address new challenges such as rising cancer cases.
“We now need urgent political will and commitment at the highest level to improve the cancer treatment services in the public health institutions and stronger health system structures to deliver the necessary health services so that no one and no place is left behind despite their economic status,” he added.
Rusike decried the long distances cancer patients in the rural areas have to travel in search for services, only to find broken down equipment in the cities.
Zimbabwe Senior Doctors Association president Shingai Nyaguse said cancer treatment services were severely affected by the COVID-19 pandemic which gobbled a greater part of the health finances.
“Comprehensive cancer care has been erratic over the years, and was severely impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic mitigation measures for these past two years. Currently the only working radiotherapy machine is in a private hospital which is expensive for most citizens. The Health and Child Care ministry has now recognised the importance and burden of (poor and few) equipment and is working on a cancer strategy which is a step in the right direction,” Nyaguse said.
She suggested that in the short term, there is urgent need to raise awareness in communities about early diagnosis to capacitate cancer screening programmes, make chemo drugs available and repair public sector machines.
“This will need involvement of all stakeholders including the private sector,” Nyaguse added.
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