The 4th of February has never been an ordinary day in the fight against one of the most difficult diseases to beat.
Cancer has been dubbed many names, the most defining one according to me is ‘emperor of maladies’, coined by the the author and oncologist, Siddhartha Mukherjee.
On this day, people from all over the world and from all walks of life affected and unaffected by cancer came together to celebrate the lives of those that have succumbed to the disease but even better, to cheer those who have beaten it. It’s a day to remind each other of the battle that still lies ahead and pick each other up.
In 2018, cancer claimed lives of around 9.6 million people globally, and it stood as the second leading cause of death. A big chunk of these deaths, around 70 per cent, occured in developing countries like Tanzania. The current pattern paints a picture of cancer as a leading cause of death in poor countries, demystifying the myth that cancer is only for the rich.
The Tanzanian reality
World Health Organisation (WHO) reports that 30 per cent to 50 per cent of cancer deaths can be prevented by modifying or avoiding its major risk factors. These include quitting smoking, maitaining a healthy body weight, reducing alcohol consumption, exercising regularly and combating infection related issues by screening, prompt treatment and vaccination.
As a country we must continue to remind each other that cancer has touched every home like AIDS did.Today we must acknowledge that cervical cancer kills more women than any other cancer in the country and the same can be said for prostate cancer among men.
Though deaths due to cancer have plummeted globally, in Tanzania the scenario is different.
In total, we diagnose around 42,060 new cancer cases every year and unfortunately 28,610 do die in the same year. This means more than half of those diagnosed with cancer die in Tanzania. This picture does not represent cancer all over the world, but rather says more about our health system and lifestyle of our people.
We have taken strides, more needs to be done
The Tanzanian story of cancer though depressing like many parts of Africa, we have made a few steps in the right directions.
We have more basic chemotherapy drugs now available under and beyond the scheme of free cancer treatment for all. As more government facilities start offering cancer care including Muhimbli National Hospital (MNH), which poised its first bone transplant, more private players have joined in the fight. According to the Ministry of Health, more than 1000 patients received treatement in the private setting in Dar es salaam and outside.
Even more promising is we have three linarc machines, state of the art radiation equipments with two or more belonging to the government. This has insured increased quality in cancer care in the country with the hope of reducing deaths and morbidity for those inflicted with this monster. We have increased our number of experts in the area, boasting of many oncologists today than ever before. I’m optimistic that one day we will win more battles than we are today against cancer in Tanzania.
The road ahead
We still have challenges that hinder our desired progress. Financing of the cancer care is still a puzzle. Cancer is expensive and globally it was estimated in 2010 to cost the world a staggering $1.16 trillion. Embracing the fact that cancer care is expensive, we need to gather efforts and speak with one voice for universal health care. Health insurance for all will enable easy access to cancer care as well as screening services and hence reduce late stage cancer.
For cancer care to be effective in controlling the burden in our country, it has to be affordable and accessible to all and in the same spirit of never losing hope.