Shamiso Yikoniko Sundaimail
At least 7 000 new cases of cancer are recorded every year in Zimbabwe, resulting in 1 500 deaths. Moreover, 60 percent of these cancers are associated with HIV.
As a result, the National Aids Council began procuring cancer detection equipment and drugs in 2012 to diversify its measures to fight HIV and Aids.
NAC monitoring and evaluation director Mr Amon Mpofu confirmed the development and said these will not be reserved for people living with HIV only.
“The procured cancer equipment and drugs will be distributed through the national pharmaceutical company and it’s meant to benefit everyone even those not living with HIV,” he said.
According to NAC financial statements, US$260 000 was used to buy cancer equipment.
Mr Mpofu added that procurement of the equipment and drugs was informed by what the Health and Child Care Ministry would have requested.
Introduction of a Cancer Levy has been debated on different fora with policymakers invalidating the proposal for fear of burdening taxpayers.
Health Minister Dr David Parirenyatwa has stated that: “There are no immediate plans to introduce a Cancer Levy. We have integrated cancer issues with HIV so that we eat up on the Aids Levy. It’s not practical to introduce a Cancer Levy as there are many other levies being implemented.”
Mr Mpofu expressed optimism that the procurement of cancer equipment and drugs will not put a strain on resources meant to buy anti-retroviral drugs.
Nearly one million people of the 1,4 million living with HIV in Zimbabwe are benefiting from Government’s anti-retroviral therapy programme.
While not all cancers are related to HIV/Aids, the advent of the pandemic has seen a marked increase in cancer cases.
Some of the most common cancers diagnosed in people living with HIV include Kaposi sarcoma, Non-Hodgkin lymphoma and cervical cancer.
“We really can’t focus on HIV/Aids only without addressing the related diseases such as cancer. If we address cancers we would have addressed HIV,” said Mr Mpofu.
Health experts maintain that infection with HIV weakens the immune system and reduces the body’s ability to fight infections that may lead to cancer.
People with HIV are several times more likely than uninfected people to be diagnosed with Kaposi sarcoma, at least 70 times more likely to be diagnosed with non-Hodgkin lymphoma and among women, and at least five times more likely to be diagnosed with cervical cancer.
NAC communications officer Mrs Tadiwa Nyatanga-Pfupa said, “NAC procures anti-retroviral drugs which have led to the recovering of many patients thus reducing the incidence of HIV-related cancers. Since 2012 NAC has been procuring anti-cancer drugs such as Bleomycin, Methotrexate, Cisplatin, Doxorubicin among and will continue to do so.”
According to the 2013 Zimbabwe National Cancer Registry, published in August 2015, the number of new cancer cases in 2013 was 6 548 with 2 062 cancer deaths.
In 2012, a total of 6 107 cases were recorded with 1 556 deaths. However, 63 853 HIV-related deaths were recorded in 2013 as compared to cancers (UNAids, 2014).
The high percentages have been attributed to lack of health-seeking behaviours and lack of readily available cancer facilities.
Cancer Association of Zimbabwe monitoring and evaluation officer Mr Lovemore Makurirofa attributed poor health-seeking behaviours for fuelling cancer.
“Many people become adamant when it comes to issues regarding their reproductive health and many a times they ignore the early signs of cancers and only visit the hospital when the cancers would’ve been at advanced stages,” he said.
“For almost all cancers, it takes about 10 years from its progression to stage one. About 81 percent of all cancers recorded in Zimbabwe are diagnosed at advanced stages.”
The most prevalent cancers among Zimbabweans of all races are cervical (18 percent), Kaposi sarcoma (10 percent), breast and prostate (seven percent each), non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma and non-melamona skin cancer (six percent each), oesophagus and colo-rectal cancers (four percent each), and eye cancer (three percent). Other cancers account for 35 percent of registered cases.
Cancer is a disease caused by uncontrolled division of abnormal cells in the body.
Mr Makurirofa bemoaned the deficiency of readily available cancer facilities.
“Cancer services aren’t readily available in the country and we still have a long way to go. And there is no sustainable fund-raising for cancers because up until now we still haven’t got a cancer fund.”
Mr Makurirofa is of the view that the total number of new cancer cases might be an underestimation as some people do not access health services.
“Statistics recorded by the Cancer Registry aren’t a true reflection of the new cancer cases because some people aren’t accessing cancer services due to the distance they have to travel and the high costs associated with seeking treatment,” he explained.
Costs for diagnosis and treatment are determined by the type of cancer, its location, the stage at which it is detected and the type of treatment required.
A session of radiotherapy costs between US$3 000 and US$4 000, while chemotherapy costs between US$100 and US$41 000 per cycle depending on the stage.
Mr Makurirofa called on the Government to invest in prevention of cancers.
“If Government invests in the prevention of cancers by holding awareness campaigns on living healthy and the signs and symptoms of cancers, we can be able to cut down on the cases of cancer treatment burden,” Mr Makurirofa said.
“Decentralisation of cancer services is also a key factor which can assist the country to see a reduction in cancer cases thereby lifting the burden of expensive cancer treatment amongst the people.”
Mrs Nyatanga-Pfupa said NAC would assist in decentralisation of treatment and prevention services of HIV-related cancers.
NAC has also embarked on an expansion drive for cervical cancer screening among HIV-positive women at opportunistic infections clinics with support from its partners.