Childhood Cancers Stalk Zimbabwe As 67 Children Die in 12 Months

EVEN though survival rate for childhood cancers in developing countries is hovering above 80%, chances of children surviving following a cancer diagnosis in Zimbabwe remain below 20% due to a myriad of factors ranging from late presentation of cases and failure to access quality care and treatment on time.

By Michael Gwarisa

Some of the childhood cancers affecting children the most in Zimbabwe include Leukemia, Neuroblastoma, Rhabdomyosarcoma, Retinoblastoma among others. Due to existing gaps to accessing care, survival chances for children remain depressed.

Speaking at the World Cancer Day commemorations in Harare, KidzCan Executive Director, Mr Daniel McKenzie said there was a huge gap in terms of price, access and quality of care and this was costing lives of young children.

Last year in Zimbabwe alone, 67 children died from cancer and these are those that we know. People who seek cancer in particular children and their parents hit barriers at every step ranging from income, education, geographical location, discrimination based on the ethnicity, race, gender age, disability and even lifestyle are just a few of the factors that can negatively affect care,” said Mr McKenzie.

He added that the most disadvantaged groups are most likely to have increased exposure to a host of other risk factors such as tobacco, unhealthy lives and also the environment.

“Many families in Zimbabwe don’t know for example that children get cancer and so often seek alternative treatment first and in the meantime the cancer is growing. All this is due to lack of awareness, and knowledge and yet if detected early, children have a better survival rate than adults and respond better to chemotherapy.

“In Zimbabwe, patients reach the hospital as the last hope having gone all over the country looking for help, due to the fact that they have no information on childhood cancer and that it is curable if presented early. They would have spent all their finances and they are now dry and out.”

Childhood cancer patients are faced with further challenges in the hospital which include access to diagnostics, medication cost, if available or if they are working. This however is where KidzCan comes through to bridge the gap through offering chemotherapy drugs, diagnostic imaging, psycho-social support and also nutritional support to increase the survival rate for childhood cancer patients.

Health and Child Care minister, Dr Constatino Chiwenga weighed in and said Zimbabwe was adopting the Global Childhood Cancer Initiative which is being supported by the World Health Organisation (WHO) in order to arrest the high childhood cancer burden.

“In developing countries, which include Zimbabwe, eight out of 10 children diagnosed with cancer die compared to two out of the 1o in the developed countries. Through this initiative, Zimbabwe will be supported to strengthen diagnosis and treatment facilities for children with cancer and ensure they have access to the essential cancer medicines they need,” said Dr Chiwenga.

Meanwhile, the World Health Organisation (WHO) Zimbabwe Representative, Dr Alex Gasasira said of the more than 400 000 children diagnosed of cancer annually, around 90% live in low and middle income countries.

“Childhood cancers in Africa are associated with only 20 percent survival as compared to the developed world where 80 percent of children diagnosed with cancer survive,” said Dr Gasasira.

Meanwhile, the St. Jude/WHO global medicines access platform will launch as a two-year pilot project providing medication at no cost to 12 countries. By the end of 2027, it is expected that 50 countries will receive childhood cancer medicines through the platform. It’s estimated 120,000 children could be impacted within the first six years.

The program will provide end-to-end support. It will consolidate global demand to shape the market; assist countries with the selection of medicines; develop treatment standards; and build information systems to ensure that effective care is being provided.








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