AT A CROSSROADS: We must do more to defeat cancer!

Sunday February 10 2019


By Saumu Jumanne

One of the worst feelings in this life is to see a loved one’s life, slowly and painfully, being eaten up by cancer, to the end.

When the doctors pronounce that the cancer has reached a point where it cannot be beaten, the overwhelming feelings of helplessness are devastating. And in most cases, the doctors don’t tell the patient or his/her family the truth, that the disease is not treatable anymore.

With the fear of death and taboos in Africa, even when one is dying, those around him or her still continue giving hope that something might happen and the patient gets better.

That kind of setting has prevented our nations from preparing for palliative care and offer the same to our loved ones. Cancer patients who have reached a point of no return need the palliative care, sometimes at home- to provide relief from the pain, stress, and so on, as they wait for the inevitable death. This is a painful conversation that we need.

During the World Cancer Day last Monday, I as well as millions of others across the globe had reflections about the killer disease. It is disturbing to know that across the globe, 1 in 6 deaths is due to cancer. According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), cancer is the second leading cause of death globally.

The condition’s bad news is depressing. For women, nearly 90 per cent of those who die from Cervical Cancer are due to poor access to prevention, screening and treatment. This means poverty and inequality plays a big role in those deaths.

According to WHO Cancer fact sheet, about one third of deaths from the disease are caused by behavioral and dietary risks. For example, high body mass index, low fruit and vegetable intake, lack of physical activity, tobacco use, among others. It notes that “between 30–50 per cent of cancers can currently be prevented by avoiding risk factors and implementing existing evidence-based prevention strategies”. This means that the minister for Health, Ms Ummy Mwalimu, is very right in calling Tanzanians to take preventive measures, ensure early detection and treatment of cancer.

One of the most moving messages I saw during the commemoration of the cancer day, was from Kenyan tycoon, Chris Kirubi, a cancer survivor. “I would like each one of you to go for cancer screening test and adopt a healthy lifestyle.”

Screening is so important because some forms of cancer are preventable /treatable, for example cervical cancer, the leading killer diseases among women compared to other types of cancer in Tanzania, followed by breast cancer.

So, it is heartening in Tanzania to see more women turning up for cervical cancer diagnosis after the government’s countrywide campaign named ‘Early detection and Early Treatment.’ Health minister noted the number of women tested for the deadly disease rose to 416,841 in 2018 compared to 375,522 in 2017.

Dear fellow women, let’s do what must be done to beat that killer disease- Ummy Mwalimu was very candid, saying “I call upon women to develop a culture of testing to know their cancer status, particularly cervical and breast cancer, early detection saves lives.”

Our government has done a lot to improve public health facilities for treatment of cancer e.g Ocean Road Cancer Institute (ORCI), the only specialized facility for cancer treatment in Tanzania. Today, a number of our hospitals are up to the task as well. There is increased supply of drugs in government hospitals where the budget for cancer medicines rose from Sh700 million in 2015/16 to Sh10 billion- in 2018/19 financial year.

The government’s plan to launch the National Cancer Treatment Guidelines, as a tool to guide cancer testing and treatment service, will go a long way, in upping the fight to beat the cancer, is very commendable.