By Charity Ruzvidzo
Health experts have called upon leaders in the Southern African Development Community (SADC) to increase efforts in the fight against breast cancer.
October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month, a worldwide annual campaign involving thousands of organisations to highlight the importance of breast cancer awareness, education and research.
The executive director of the Community Working Group on Health (CWGH) Itai Rusike said there is need for countries to adopt of new technologies in cancer diagnosis and treatment in the region.
“There have been major improvements in the diagnosis and treatment of cancer, particularly in high income countries. However adoption of new technologies in cancer diagnosis and treatment will place substantial and diverse pressure on the already overburdened and underfunded health delivery systems, and therefore requires careful planning and resource mobilization.
“Cancer is a disease that affects large numbers of people from all walks of life. Diagnosis of cancer induces fear both in the individual and families, and is frequently viewed as a death sentence. Its prevention, diagnosis and treatment poses great challenges particularly in resource constrained environments. There is a reason for optimism however, as research indicates possibilities for major strides in its prevention and cure,” he said.
The health lobbyist said to address the rising cancer burden, countries in the SADC region will need to come up with National Cancer Prevention and Control Strategies supported by comprehensive cancer control policies and programmes.
“Cancer prevention and control requires a population-wide, integrated and cohesive approach to cancer that encompasses prevention, screening, diagnosis, treatment and support, palliative and rehabilitative care. This calls for political, technical, and practical leadership as well as significant investment in terms of infrastructure and equipment, human resources, technologies, medicines and vaccines. Appropriate investment will ensure that patients accessing health care services in the SADC region are assured of their right to receive quality treatment and care regardless of who and where they are,” he said.
Dr Richard Sibanda, a medical doctor in Harare, increased awareness can prevent high cancer mortality.
“If one is diagnosed early and they access treatment early they are able to fight and survive breast cancer. This is possible if SADC countries increase awareness on breast cancer and educate people to adopt a healthy lifestyle. The high number of people in the region who are dying due to cancer is alarming. This speaks volumes to how we need to increase our awareness levels so that everyone is better placed to address cancer,” he said.
Dr Sibanda commended the Zimbabwean government for conducting a rigorous cancer awareness campaign.
“Our greatest challenge as a country has always been accessing information especially when it comes to remote areas. Many people in the past have died because they were not fully educated to brace themselves for these diseases. However, this has changed over the years, the government through its various partners has managed to raise awareness especially on cervical cancer, the lead cancer that affects women globally. Despite these efforts more still needs to be done to ensure we totally wipe away cancer,” he said.
Another health expert, Luke Rugare said the major hindrance to the fight against cancer is limited facilities for detection and treatment of cancer in most African countries.
“Most countries in the continent do not have the recommended cancer facilities and in cases where they are available, the number of patients outweighs them. In some areas patients still have to travel long distances for pathology or diagnostic services. The cost of care remains high especially for prohibitive biopsy, pathology, surgery, chemotherapy and radiotherapy,” he said.
The health lobbyist said awareness improves fears associated with cancer in the region.
“Cancer is one of the diseases in SADC that is highly associated with various myths. For instance others believe it is associated with witchcraft or spirits. Raising awareness dispels the lack of knowledge surroundings cancer diagnosis and treatment. It also enables people to accept hospital treatment instead of seeking alternative treatment,” he said.
Awareness of the symptoms, and early detection through screening, can help lead to earlier diagnosis, resulting in improved treatment outcomes. Awareness of risk factors, can help women reduce their personal cancer risk.
Statistics from the National Cancer Registry (NCR) indicate that the top five cancers affecting women in South Africa include breast, cervical, colorectal, uterine and lung cancer.
Both breast and cervical cancer have been identified as a national priority with increasing incidences occurring.
According to the Zimbabwe National Cancer Registry 2013 Annual Report, cervical cancer is the leading cancer in women followed by breast cancer.
Breast cancer is the second-most-common cancer among Zambian women.
Breast cancer also remains a menace in Mozambique. In 2010, Maputo Central Hospital registered at least 10 cases of breast cancer per month.
In Africa, breast cancer is responsible for 28 percent of all cancers and 20 percent all cancer deaths in women.