ZIMBABWE like many other developing countries is facing increased prevalence rates of non-communicable diseases in addition to existing high rate of communicable diseases.
This challenge has been referred to as the double burden of disease that poses significant obstacles to resource- constrained countries.
Non communicable diseases cluster includes conditions such as cardiovascular diseases, chronic obstructive lung disease, diabetes, mental health disorders, injuries, disabilities, blindness and “cancers.”
A diagnosis of cancer is devastating for anyone, but in many high income countries, people receiving such news can be reassured that they will receive treatment and be hopefully cured. Good for them!
But what about the millions who live in developing countries where access to specialised treatment and medical care are limited and the health infrastructure is weak.
According to the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) for every 500 000 to 10 000000 of the population there should be about one to two linear accelerators (radiotherapy treatment machines used to treat cancer patients) servicing the whole population.
That means in Zimbabwe we need 14 to 28 linear accelerators and at the moment the country has six which may not all be functional at any given time.
It only makes sense that in order to reduce the burden of cancer in a resource-constrained country like Zimbabwe there is need to strengthen preventive efforts through cancer awareness, awareness and awareness!
The practice of medicine in Zimbabwe is overwhelmingly reactive rather than proactive.
People get cancer, seek medical help and how expensive that model is!
Medical professionals are taught to treat diseases and not to prevent diseases.
At the Health Professions Authority Annual Congress held on November 23 last year, the minister of Health and Child Care said that as health professionals we need to think out of the box and stay away from the box if we are to make a difference in our society!
I am confident that I am fully trained to deliver radiation therapy treatment to cancer patients which is an important component of cancer control programmes in my country but I like thinking out of the box.
I believe in the old maxim prevention is better than cure, whilst most clinicians would rather wait for people to come to the hospital for treatment as patients, as a cancer professional who is dealing with patients who are presenting late to get my services it makes more sense for me to go outside the hospital walls and meet people before they become our patients.
It’s better to prevent cancer rather than to treat it, in cases where prevention is not possible awareness raising results in early detection and treatment.
We must ask ourselves these questions
lIs it better to treat lung cancer or to reduce the number of cigarettes you smoke or not smoke at all?
lIs it reasonable to buy fruits and vegetables as part of your daily diet rather than buy chemotherapy medication for colon cancer?
lDoes it make sense to vaccinate young girls against HPV rather than treat cervical cancer later in life?
According to the world health organisation 30 to 40 percent of cancers can be prevented. I have simple tips on how to reduce our chances of getting cancer;
Reducing alcohol intake
Avoiding overexposure to the sun
Limiting dairy foods, sugar and salt intake
Eating a high fibre diet rich in fruits and vegetables
Avoid additives such as nitrites, preservatives and colorant’s in food
Prevent irritants at work such as dust, tar, wood, agricultural chemicals
Having medical checks regularly, this leads to early detection
Getting vaccinated against certain viruses e.g HPV
Practising safer sex
People cannot do this alone, the government needs to put in place health promotion polices which support cancer prevention, if they are already there implementation is therefore very crucial.
Madzudzo is executive director of Talk Zim Cancer.Prevention better than cure