Zimbabwe: 'No Child Should Die of Cancer'

16 February 2021

Senior Reporter

NO child deserves to die from cancer as most paediatric cancers can be treated once diagnosed and treated early, First Lady Auxillia Mnangagwa has said.

She also expressed gratitude to the World Health Organisation (WHO) for its support in providing critical interventions around childhood cancer treatment and said it was important for African countries to strive to increase the survival rate of children to more than 60 percent by 2030.

The First Lady, who is the country's health ambassador, was speaking during a webinar yesterday organised by WHO in commemoration of The international Childhood Cancer Day 2021 running under the theme "Through Our Hands".

She said this year's commemorations came in the midst of the Covid-19 pandemic which has devastated the world, including Zimbabwe and further weakened childhood cancer programmes and health delivery systems.

"We are committed to fight childhood cancer regardless of the context in which we find ourselves doing it because: no child deserves to die from cancer, as most of these paediatric cancers can be treated once diagnosed and treated early," she said.

Globally 300 000 children are diagnosed with cancer annually and in Zimbabwe about 200 cases are diagnosed each year, but the number of cases is estimated to be in excess of 500 as others go undetected.

According to the Zimbabwe cancer registry of 2016, there has been an increase in new cases detected by 88,7 percent for the period 2005 to 2016. The cancer with the highest incidence of 19 is renal cancer.

The survival rate for children diagnosed with cancer in low medium income countries such as Zimbabwe is 20 percent compared to 80 percent in high income countries.

The First Lady said a global effort was required to correct this disparity in survival rates as nations fight to eliminate childhood cancer and attain universal health coverage.

"The Government of Zimbabwe has put in place various initiatives to combat this scourge despite the limited resources available and the challenges caused by the Covid-19 pandemic. The Ministry of Health and Child Care runs a dedicated ward for children suffering from cancer at Parirenyatwa Group of Hospitals. In order to enhance outcomes, the Ministry of Health and Child Care has private public partnerships with organisations such as Kidzcan Zimbabwe that assist to provide additional resources and psychosocial support for the affected children and their families," she said.

The mother of the nation, who has a passion for the welfare of women and children, said the Government provided blood and blood products for free in public hospitals, and blood was one of the major requirements for childhood cancer patients.

She said training of specialists in oncology, oncology nurses and radio-oncologists was conducted at Parirenyatwa Group of Hospitals, while the National Pharmaceutical Company, which procures drugs which include oncology medicines for the country, had been capacitated to ensure that critical drugs needed by all, including children suffering from cancer, were available and accessible.

"As a country, we have stepped up efforts to raise awareness on childhood cancers, as well as to combat other types of cancers such cervical cancer, breast cancer and prostate cancer amongst others through all types of media at our disposal.

"Zimbabwe, through the ministry of health and child care is one of the first countries to carry out human papilloma virus vaccinations amongst girls between 10-14 years. This has been adopted in the national immunisation programme and will protect girls against development of cervical cancer later in their lives."

Childhood cancer screening, the First Lady said, had been integrated in the maternal and child health programme to ensure early diagnosis of retinoblastoma and Wilms's tumor through inclusion of these conditions on the road to health card.

"The Government has worked tirelessly in solidarity with global efforts to manage the Covid-19 pandemic as this pandemic poses a greater danger to patients, including children suffering from cancer."

She urged everyone to continue to be vigilant and follow laid down protocols to safeguard children and the community, especially those already battling non-communicable diseases such as childhood cancer.

She also paid tribute to health frontline staff for their commitment to duty to ensure continuity of access to essential health services to the population, including those battling childhood cancers.

The Government, said the First Lady, was grateful to the World Health Organisation (WHO) for its support in providing critical interventions around childhood cancer treatment protocols.

"It is imperative that as African countries we should strive to increase the survival rate of children suffering from cancer to more than 60 percent by 2030. This is also in line with the Zimbabwe Government's vision 2030, which enjoins all sectors of the economy, including issues related to health, to ensure the attainment of a middle-income country by 2030," she said.

The First Lady last week had a heart-to-heart interactions with parents of children living with cancer as she sought to understand the challenges they face and give them assistance and words of comfort.

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