Bridget Mananavire 6 February 2017
HARARE – As Zimbabwe’s death toll from cancer sharply rises, calls to
declare it a national disaster are getting louder.
This comes amid a growing fear that unless government immediately declares
an emergency situation on cancer treatment, several cancer patients who
cannot afford treatment may just resign their fate to death.
The palpable fear and concern was expressed to Health and Child Care
deputy minister Aldrin Musiiwa on World Cancer Day commemorations in
Harare on Friday by a teeming population of cancer patients.
Donance Kangausavi, who has undergone cancer treatment, said government
should intervene and assist victims grappling with steep treatment costs.
“I am HIV positive and have been living with it for 26 years easily. I
was also diagnosed with cancer and I can testify that is it not something
to play with, inorwadza (its painful).
“We are appealing to you minister (Musiiwa) to have this disease declared
a national disaster,” Kangausavi said.
“We are going to be meeting as the Zimbabwe Cancer Network on the 4th of
March to declare it a national disaster and present to you a petition for
you to declare it a national disaster.”
Musiiwa said there was need to step up awareness on the disease, saying
early screening was the most crucial part in its treatment.
“In Zimbabwe cancer is a major cause of morbidity and mortality with over
5 000 new diagnoses and over 1 500 deaths per year,” Musiiwa said.
The most commonly diagnosed cancers among all Zimbabweans were cervical
cancer (18 percent), Kaposi sarcoma (10 percent), breast cancer (7
percent), and prostate cancer (7 percent), non-Hodgkin lymphoma (6
percent), nonmelanoma skin cancer (6 percent), esophageal cancer (4
percent), colorectal cancer (4 percent), and squamous cell carcinoma of
the conjunctiva (3 percent).
“As cancer is killing the most productive group (30-70 years old), it
poses greater challenge to human and health development.
“Sadly it is estimated that cancer will double over the next 20 to 40
years, having a great negative impact on developing nations, in which
Zimbabwe is sadly part of,” Musiiwa said.
The most commonly diagnosed cancers in men and women combined were lung,
breast and colorectal cancers.
Cancer, which harms the body when altered cells divide uncontrollably to
form lumps or masses of tissue called tumours, kills more people annually
than HIV, malaria and tuberculosis combined.
Kidzcan executive director Ntombi Muchuchuti – in a speech read on her
behalf by the organisation’s monitoring and evaluation officer Abraham
Mapfumo – said most children were failing to access cancer treatment due
to steep costs.
According to the Health and Child Care ministry, radiotherapy costs
between $3 000 and $4 000 for a whole session. Chemotherapy costs between
$100 to $1 000 per cycle depending on the stage the cancer is, and a
cancer patient may need a minimum of six cycles and these can go up to 12.
“The current challenges in addressing cancer in children are limited
funding and centralised cancer treatment services,” he said.
Specialised medical services are still centralised in the two largest
cities in Zimbabwe. The diagnosis and treatment of most cancers require
specialist services such as surgeons, interventional radiologists,
pathologists, and sometimes patients travel long distances to access
“Children from all over the country are travelling to Parirenyatwa
(General Hospital) to seek treatment services,” Mapfumo said.
Because most patients with cancer in Zimbabwe present with advanced
disease, most need some form of chemotherapy. But the local pharmaceutical
industry does not manufacture these drugs, so depend on imports.
Amid a crippling foreign currency crisis, chemotherapy drug supplies have
become erratic, making it difficult to plan the patient’s care path,
which, in turn, greatly affects treatment outcomes.