Zimbabwe: Cancer now more dangerous than HIV, Aids

By Veneranda Langa

October is cancer month and the Parliament of Zimbabwe last week debated a motion on the report of the Parliament of Zimbabwe delegation to the 9th Stop in Africa Conference which was held in July in Nairobi, Kenya.

Chairperson of the Parliamentary Portfolio Committee on Health and Child Care Ruth Labode introduced the motion in the National Assembly where she said the committee recommended that the Ministry of Health and Child Care should increase access to early cancer screening of people through provision of mobile clinics and health education, especially in rural communities, and ensure that district hospital staff are trained in basic methods of screening and treating cancer.

Breast, cervical and prostate cancers are said to be the biggest killers in Africa today, an issue which African governments should take seriously in order to ensure early screening and diagnosis of people to avoid more loss of life due to cancer.

Southern African women are said to have the highest breast cancer incidence rates compared to other regions in Africa. It was also the most commonly diagnosed cancer and the second leading cause of death among women in 2008 in Africa, with 92 600 cases recorded and 50 000 deaths.

In Harare alone during the years 1990 to 1992, the female breast cancer incidence rate was said to be higher in whites than blacks, but it has now become the most commonly diagnosed cancer in women.

Prostate cancer is also said to be the most commonly diagnosed cancer among men in Southern Africa and West Africa, including countries like South Africa, Nigeria and Cameroon.

High incidence rates of prostate cancer in Southern Africa were said to reflect increased diagnosis, rather than disease occurrence.

Labode said as a result of the rising cancer cases in Zimbabwe and in the region, there was need for the Ministry of Health and Child Care to decentralise all oncology therapy methods from Parirenyatwa Hospital to other central and provincial hospitals.

“This should include cancer treatment equipment which should be accompanied by qualified personnel to use the equipment.

Parliament must also lobby bilateral and international partners like the Global Fund Model to include cancer control and treatment in the next funding model which commences in 2016,” read the health committee’s report.

“Government should prioritise training of more oncologists. Research institutions should prioritise funding for research into indigenous medicine plants that have anti-cancer medicinal properties.”

Other suggestions by the Health committee were that by the end of September 2015 the Ministry of Health must distribute three mobile clinics per province that will be purchased through a $100 million loan facility from China.

MPs were also encouraged to take an interest in lobbying government and international partners to give more focus on cancer control and treatment by forming a Parliamentary lobby group.

“A fact-finding Parliamentary mission should be sent to Zambia to learn how their mobile cancer clinics work with the view to replicate the same in Zimbabwe.”

Speaker of the National Assembly Jacob Mudenda was part of the delegates at the cancer conference in Kenya and in his speech, he said cervical cancer in Zimbabwe was most common among black women at 33,5%, and was contributing to 13% of causes of death.

Mudenda said breast cancer was ranked number two among cancers affecting women in Zimbabwe and was also on the increase among men.

He said some of the strategies that Zimbabwe was taking to control the cancer calamity were guided by the National Cancer Strategy, Reproductive Health Policy and the Non-Communicable Disease Policy.

Other strategies which Mudenda mentioned were the pilot project to vaccinate girls with the Human Papillomavirus (HPV) in two districts of Marondera and Beitbridge. The results of the valuation are yet to be done.

“Parliamentarians have a responsibility of creating awareness of the burden of cancer and the benefits of early diagnosis in their constituencies. They should actively lobby for funding for the control of cancer and help put cancer on the political agenda through parliamentary portfolio committees that exercise oversight function over the Executive,” Mudenda said.

He also said that it was pivotal to do research on indigenous knowledge in order to identify medicines that could cure cancer.

Mufakose MP Paurina Mpariwa said it was possible to treat cancer if it was diagnosed early.

“The challenge that we have in this country is that people think HIV is more serious than cancer. People need to know that it is the same as taking temperature when one is ill. I am saying this because I have a number of people in my family who have died due to cancer and some are still suffering,” Mpariwa said.

“For us to brush it aside and think that we can deal with it tomorrow really pains me. I have a relative who was discharged from hospital yesterday. So, I think this is an issue that we need to join hands, work together and do something about. We need to encourage our relatives and friends to go and get screened.”

She said it was imperative for government to source funds to acquire radiotherapy machines, especially to service people in rural areas where women are dying of cancer after giving birth to too many children.

“We raised a motion in this House where we were told that people use different things for sanitary-wear, which are not hygienic and cause cancer. We, therefore, need to have a government fund that ensures women go and get checked as well as men to be checked on prostate cancer,” Mpariwa said.

Labode said the cancer conference in Kenya was officially opened by President Uhuru Kenyatta, who said cancer had become a public health issue that could no longer be ignored.

Kenyatta called for greater commitment to cancer prevention strategies, saying few countries could meet the strategy costs of cancer research and treatment.

“If people gave up smoking, ate healthy food, drank less alcohol and exercised regularly, Africa could prevent 40% of cancers. There is need for people to be vaccinated against hepatitis and HPV, which cause infection that contribute disproportionately to the number of cancer incidences in Africa,” Kenyatta said.

Source: NewsDay Zimbabwe

Photo source: Zimbabwe Election

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