8 February 2013

Ghana: Much-Needed Relief for Cancer Patients

Relatives and friends of Ghanaians living with cancer can now look to the future with tangible hope - hope of saving the lives of ailing loved ones and escaping the double jeopardy of creeping poverty.

Hitherto, affliction with cancer has been an automatic death sentence for even the middle-income Ghanaian, not to talk of the overwhelming majority who eke out a hand-to-mouth existence.

And since it is un-African, indeed un-Ghanaian, to abandon a sick relative, family members overtax themselves to pay for drugs and radiation therapy that they can ill-afford, eventually to no avail.

Very soon, however, Ghanaians suffering from cancer will be treated under the National Health Insurance Scheme (NHIS), according to Dr. Sylvester Anemana, Chief Director, of the Ministry of Health, saving scarce family resources, if nothing else.

Speaking at a World Cancer Day symposium in Accra, Dr. Anemana disclosed that government had put the "necessary measures in place to re-build the radiotherapy and nuclear medicine facilities at Korle-Bu and the Komfo Anokye Teaching Hospitals to care for the many Ghanaians suffering from cancer", adding that treatment under the NHIS would help save the lives of many victims of cancer who are now left to decide what to do with their lives ...

He and others put the incidence of cancer worldwide and locally in clear perspective: "It is estimated that about 12.4 per cent of people living in Africa will develop cancer after the age of 40, meaning that if we take pragmatic steps now, we can save a lot of lives of those who struggle to purchase (cancer) medicine."

Three hundred and seven (307) cases of breast cancer; 221 cases of cervical cancer and 151 cases of head and neck cancer were recorded at the Korle-Bu, according to Dr. Clement Edusa, a radiation oncologist at the hospital

Dr. Edusa clarified: "Cancer now accounts for more deaths world-wide than HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis, hepatitis B, malaria and hypertension and must be given the needed attention and create awareness about the disease; it is estimated that between 60 per cent and 70 per cent of the disease, estimated to be 21.4 million new cases, were predicted to occur by 2030 and that cervical cancer would kill as many as 430,000 women per year in the developing countries.

And according to the Cancer Society of Ghana, cancer threatens further improvements in women's health and gender equality, as just two cancers - cervical and breast - together account for over 750,000 deaths each year, with the large majority of deaths occurring in developing countries.

Clearly, without any doubt whatsoever, cancer is a silent and unpublicized killer. And the decision to make treatment for it available under the NHIS is timely and heart-warming. It is for this reason that The Chronicle is today proud to be a Ghanaian, warts and all. For once we see government being proactive in caring for the vulnerable in the society.

A good one there, Ministry of Health. But The Chronicle would urge the ministry not to fold its arms and preen itself. Dr. Anemana also spoke of the need to "develop basic environmental standards" that would protect us and our children from the harmful effects of industrial and domestic pollutants.

The Chronicle would urge the Ministry of Health, since the bill for environmental ills would eventually land on its table, to liaise with the relevant sister ministries to provide the "necessary critical attention" that would prevent the use of harmful chemicals in food preparation, weak enforcement of environmental bye-laws and industrial waste management from creating the necessary conditions to foster cancer.

Let us, beginning now, make the wisdom in "a stich in time saves nine" the cornerstone of our preventive health.

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