Zim recording 8000 new cancer cases every year

AROUND 8,500 new cancer cases are being diagnosed in Zimbabwe annually, amidst indications that more cancer patients could be dying due to lack diagnosis and treatment at the back of ridiculous treatment linked catastrophic costs.

By Michael Gwarisa

Data from a 2018 Zimbabwe Cancer Registry Report shows that the total number of new cancer cases recorded then among Zimbabweans of all races (including non-melanoma skin cancer) in 2018 was 7 841 comprising 3 301 (42.1 percent) males and 4 540 (57.9 percent) females.

The numbers have since gone up to 8,500 new cancer diagnoses per year. In an interview with HealthTimes, Cancer Association of Zimbabwe (CAZ) Monitoring and Evaluation Coordinator, Lovemore Makurirofa said this could be an understatement as some patients were opting to die at home without getting treatment due to massive costs involved.

The cancer cases are increasing every year. As you might be aware, according to the Zimbabwe Cancer Registry 2018 Report which is the latest statistics available, the cancer cases are increasing and there are now reaching around 8,500 new cancer cases every year which is very significant. Also the deaths are always increasing. In a nutshell, we can say the cancer burden is very high in Zimbabwe.

“The statistics which I am trying to illustrate actually underestimate the situation because these are the few people who have afforded to be diagnosed with cancer, they would have been afforded to report in a heath institution. The majority of them as CAZ, we sometimes see them, they visit us but if they don’t afford those diagnoses costs, they go home and actually die of cancer before they are diagnosed, so they are not captured in the health system,” said Makurirofa.

In terms of challenges that are being faced by cancer patients in Zimbabwe, Makurirofa said the high costs for treatment were a huge barrier to care and all cancer patients should be declared vulnerable people and actually get social grants or government assistance.

“Some of the cancer patients in Zimbabwe are not affording treatment at our health institutions. The cancer medications including Chemotherapy medications are charged in United States dollars and they are usually found in the private Pharmacies and the prices are beyond the reach of majority of cancer patients. Some of them are prescribed pain medications but they don’t even afford these medications.”

Impact of Cancer on Livelihoods

While treatment gobbles a bigger chunk of the financial resources when somebody is diagnosed or is battling cancer, other costs also emerge along the way and these also have a bearing on the health of the patient.

According to Makurirofa, basic needs such as food can be hard to get when cancer strikes.

“Cancer patients are facing other challenges, especially livelihood challenges. If someone is diagnosed with cancer, most of their financial resources are likely to be used towards cancer care. They end up without anything or money to pay for school fees or feed the family.
“When we are going through counselling with them, we realise that these are the people that need to be considered even under social welfare. We are not talking of social welfare in terms of the drugs. These are people who need support even through provision of food or public assistance. We should have discussions around this and probably arrive at a conclusion that a family which has a single cancer patient should be considered vulnerable because whatever sevings that they have will be gobbled through accessing cancer treatment.”

Catastrophic cancer costs

Diagnosis

While he could not give an actual figure in terms of costs, Makurirofa outlined that the process from cancer diagnosis up to treatment was a mammoth task especially to the poor and vulnerable.

“It is not easy for me to estimate the cost but for you to be diagnosed of cancer, you need to afford the CT Scans, you need to afford the biopsy which involves the laboratory and laboratory services in Zimbabwe are highly centralised in urban areas and for you to access the laboratory and depending on the number of specimens that are needed for that person to be diagnosed, they’re likely to pay US$40 to US$60 for a single specimen. It’s actually an amount that is not bearable with many of our cancer patients whom we are working with.

“That is the cost of diagnoses but remember it’s not enough. We are talking of Biopsy which involves laboratory. There are other CT Scans which may cost US$60 or US$80 depending on the position where exactly the scan should be taken, so the prices vary and these are prices pegged in USD and if you opt to swipe, the cost will be higher so the patient either has to buy USD on the black market.”

Treatment

After diagnoses, the treatment journey begins and at this stage, the patient needs to access and afford medications. However, in Zimbabwe, these medications are bought in the pharmacies.

Chemotherapy drugs in Zimbabwe are beyond the reach of many,” says Makurirofa. “The price depends on the stage of cancer, type of cancer and other commodities may also determine the costs. A person with Hypertension can’t be treated as one who doesn’t have the condition. Sometimes for one to be treated for two and three sessions they may need US$400.00 which is beyond the affordability of majority of patients.”

Hidden Costs

When people think of costs associated with managing cancer, they normally think of drugs and procedures one goes through to get treated. However, there are other hidden costs that also have a direct bearing on the treatment outcome.

“There are other hidden costs such as transport costs. Cancer is treated here in Harare and Bulawayo, so obviously people have to travel and when they come to Harare, they will need accommodation, they will need food, some patients might also need blood transfusion before they undergo cancer treatment. Admission costs during treatment also have a bearing on the cost.”

Way Forward:

Shortage of financial resources are currently very limited to support cancer patients in Zimbabwe.

80 percent of cancer patients in Zimbabwe are diagnosed very late and they will need palliative care in their lifetime. The issues of costs is having a negative impact on the fight against cancer. However, Makurirofa proposed some interventions that might be considered in order to rescue the dire situation.

“Traditionally in Zimbabwe, we used to have what we call, through the department of social welfare something called AMTOS.

“Assisted Medical Treatment Orders which were written by the social welfare department directed to the hospital so that they cater for poor cancer patients. I think that needs to be revised because there are patients who deserve that form of assistance.”

 

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