21 February 2013

Zimbabwe: 'More People Now Aware of Cancer'


Zimbabwe joined the rest of the world in commemorating the World Cancer Day on February 4 this month. The celebrations come at a time there is a reported surge in the number of people who are being diagnosed with the disease. This also comes

at a time the country's health sector is facing number of challenges. Our Senior Reporter Fortious Nhambura (FN) spoke to Cancer Association of Zimbabwe knowledge manager Tafadzwa Chigariro (TC) on the day and other issues.

Could you briefly appraise us on the importance of the World Cancer Day? How has this helped in ensuring that we bring information about the disease to the people?

The aim is to help save millions of people from preventable deaths each year by raising awareness and education about cancer, and pressing governments across the world to take action against the disease. On the day, various institutions collectively come together to make noise about the disease, sending messages of prevention, early detection and treatment to almost every corner of the world. The world burden of the disease has been growing and it is thus critical that the health sector ups awareness programmes. Each year, 7,6 million people die from cancer.

There are reports that cancers have been on an increase in the past few years and that has not been matched with the level of awareness in the country. Is the situation as regards the knowledge of the disease increasing?

TC: There is steady rise in cancer awareness levels in Zimbabwe. This is more so in the urban communities and other communities well covered by the mass media. Raising awareness on cancer is evidenced by the increasing demand for cancer information by individuals and organisations. It is also evidenced by increased demand for screening, diagnosis and treatment services.

What could be the reason behind the increase in cancer in country?

This is highly attributable to human behaviour and certain environmental factors. Prolonged exposure to infections such as HIV, human papilloma virus (HPV) and hepatitis B and C is the major culprit. In Zimbabwe, the HIV and Aids pandemic is augmenting the rate of HIV-related cancers, with 60 percent of new cancers being associated with the pandemic. HPV increases the risk factor for cervical, anal, vulvas and vaginal cancer. Tobacco use, excessive alcohol consumption, obesity and decreased physical activity are some of the major risk factors. Concerted efforts must be put towards cancer prevention as we will ultimately save more resources and lives through promotion of simple but life changing behaviours and actions.

According to the statistics that you have, what five types of cancer are the leading killers in the country and what is being done to contain them?

Cervical cancer, Kaposi's Sarcoma, prostate cancer, breast cancer and eye cancers are some of the leading cancers in Zimbabwe. Cancer Association of Zimbabwe is focusing its awareness and screening programmes on these cancers. Government with support from partners is prioritising provision of screening services and treatment for these cancers.

 The most topical issue in the country has been the decay in the health delivery system. In your own words, how has this affected your effects to promote the treatment and knowledge of the disease?

Cancer is adding an extra burden to the already overstretched resource base for health. This means there is very limited space for expansion of preventive and curative services for cancer and non-communicable diseases in general. Put simply, there are limited available resources for cancer in Zimbabwe.

Machines at the two centres offering radiotherapy have been down for some time with Government saying it was replacing the radiography machines. Are the centres now open for treatment? How has the closure affected treatment of the disease in the country?

I am not the best person to answer that, I think you need the Government's comment on this one. I understand most of the machines are working now.

What other problems are being faced by cancer patients?

The major challenges are cost and accessibility of treatment services. Because services are highly centralised, there are a lot of hidden costs that patients have to foot including transport, accommodation and meals.

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