Tendai Rupapa, Senior Reporter
Everyone should be motivated to take action against all forms of cancer for the prevention and control of the disease which has become a global public health challenge and a major cause of death, the country’s Health Ambassador First Lady Auxillia Mnangagwa has said.
She was speaking during World Cancer Day commemorations in Harare yesterday.
Cancer has become a major health burden for Zimbabwe and other parts of the world.
According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), cancer is the second leading cause of death globally and was responsible for an estimated 9,6 million deaths in 2018.
Globally, about one in six deaths is due to cancer. At least 70 percent of deaths from cancer, WHO says, occur in low and medium income countries.
The Zimbabwe National Cancer registry annual report for 2016 noted that the total number of new cancer cases were 7 265, comprising 3 123 males and 4 142 females.
It is with this in mind that the First Lady, through her Angel of Hope Foundation, has left no stone unturned to ensure everyone, including poor communities countrywide, are screened for cancer and access early treatment.
The First Lady has a passion for the empowerment of the nation and to ensure every one leads a healthy life.
The World Cancer Day commemorations ran under the theme; “I am and I will”, which the First Lady described as a call for commitment at a personal level to live a healthy lifestyle and to educate oneself and others about cancer.
“The theme runs for three years and is in its second year now and as a country we commit to commemorate this day annually to reduce the illnesses and deaths from cancer and keep cancer prevention and control high on the national agenda,” she said.
Health and Child Care Minister Dr Obadiah Moyo, in a speech read on his behalf by Dr Sydney Makarau, said there was need to address challenges and develop sustainable strategies to reduce the impact of cancer in Zimbabwe.
“Efforts to address cancer in Zimbabwe should start with me and you as individuals because there are behavioural actions that we can take to address this scourge,” he said.
Dr Moyo said the powers were within the people to create a healthy generation for today and the future.
Already, the First Lady, through her Angel of Hope Foundation, is taking cervical and prostate cancer screening and treatment to women and men in all parts of Zimbabwe.
The First Lady said she would continue to advocate early screening and call for improved cancer care.
“I will continue to fight for children, the elderly and the poor against cancer for early detection, effective and comprehensive treatment in the nation,” she said.
“We call upon all women and all citizens to seek and utilise these services for effective cancer control in the country.
“Cancer affects everyone, everywhere, the young and old, the rich and poor, men, women and children; it represents a tremendous burden on patients, families and societies and the health delivery system.
“It is a serious and growing public health challenge on the world and is a major non-communicable disease together with hypertension and diabetes, among others.”
The most causes of cancer are lifestyle-related, hence the First Lady’s warning for people to be careful of the choices and behaviours they make daily such as consuming unhealthy foods, lack of exercise, tobacco use and excessive alcohol consumption.
The First Lady had a heart-to-heart chat with an 18-year-old cancer survivor, Jacqueline Ushewokunze, who is orphaned.
Now doing her Upper Six, Jacqueline was diagnosed with kidney cancer (wilms tumour) when she was 12-years-old.
“I woke up one Saturday with a sharp pain on the left side and my grandparents took me to a local clinic in Bulawayo,” she said.
“At the clinic, they failed to diagnose what it was and referred me to United Bulawayo Hospitals.
“I had an ultra sound scan whereupon it was discovered I had wilms tumour. I was told there was need for chemotherapy to shrink the tumour and prepare for an operation in 2011.”
The operation required US$10 000 which Jacqueline’s grandparents could not afford.
“I was then referred to Kidscan, an organisation dedicated to increasing the survival rate of children with cancer,” she said.
“They covered my hospital bills and the operation was a success. I had to undergo cycles of chemotherapy after the operation to remove all the cancer traces. Since then, I have been okay.”
Jacqueline gave heart-rending accounts about how she would miss school because of the need to attend chemotherapy sessions in Harare and how some who were going through the same treatment with her died.
WHO representative, Dr Alex Gasasira, said globally, one in five people is diagnosed with cancer before they reach the age of 75.
Africa, he said, bore the highest burden of cervical cancer in the world and the outcome for children with cancer was worst in Africa compared to the rest of the world.
“As WHO, we are working with governments and partners to improve availability of medicines and technologies to prevent cancer and care of patients,” said Dr Gasasira.
“Many countries in our region are making progress and we are pleased that Zimbabwe is among those countries.
“Zimbabwe is making great efforts to increase the coverage and services for cancer prevention and care. It is one of the two countries that are now expanding the use of human papillomavirus vaccine to cover the whole country.”
Dr Gasarira congratulated Amai Mnangagwa for her personal leadership, commitment and passion to go throughout the length and breadth of the country to increase screening and access to preventive care.