Aids Levy to fund can­cer fight

The Sunday Mail (Zimbabwe) - - HEALTH - Shamiso Yikoniko

At least 7 000 new cases of can­cer are recorded every year in Zim­babwe, re­sult­ing in 1 500 deaths. More­over, 60 per­cent of these can­cers are as­so­ci­ated with HIV.

AS A re­sult, the Na­tional Aids Coun­cil be­gan procur­ing can­cer de­tec­tion equip­ment and drugs in 2012 to di­ver­sify its mea­sures to fight HIV and Aids. NAC mon­i­tor­ing and eval­u­a­tion di­rec­tor Mr Amon Mpofu con­firmed the devel­op­ment and said these will not be re­served for peo­ple liv­ing with HIV only.

“The pro­cured can­cer equip­ment and drugs will be dis­trib­uted through the na­tional phar­ma­ceu­ti­cal com­pany and it’s meant to ben­e­fit ev­ery­one even those not liv­ing with HIV,” he said.

Ac­cord­ing to NAC fi­nan­cial state­ments, US$260 000 was used to buy can­cer equip­ment.

Mr Mpofu added that pro­cure­ment of the equip­ment and drugs was in­formed by what the Health and Child Care Min­istry would have re­quested.

In­tro­duc­tion of a Can­cer Levy has been de­bated on dif­fer­ent fora with pol­i­cy­mak­ers in­val­i­dat­ing the pro­posal for fear of bur­den­ing tax­pay­ers.

Health Min­is­ter Dr David Parireny­atwa has stated that: “There are no im­me­di­ate plans to in­tro­duce a Can­cer Levy. We have in­te­grated can­cer is­sues with HIV so that we eat up on the Aids Levy. It’s not prac­ti­cal to in­tro­duce a Can­cer Levy as there are many other levies be­ing im­ple­mented.”

Mr Mpofu ex­pressed op­ti­mism that the pro­cure­ment of can­cer equip­ment and drugs will not put a strain on re­sources meant to buy anti-retro­vi­ral drugs.

Nearly one mil­lion peo­ple of the 1,4 mil­lion liv­ing with HIV in Zim­babwe are ben­e­fit­ing from Gov­ern­ment’s anti-retro­vi­ral ther­apy pro­gramme.

While not all can­cers are re­lated to HIV/Aids, the ad­vent of the pan­demic has seen a marked in­crease in can­cer cases.

Some of the most com­mon can­cers di­ag­nosed in peo­ple liv­ing with HIV in­clude Ka­posi sar­coma, Non-Hodgkin lym­phoma and cer­vi­cal can­cer.

“We re­ally can’t fo­cus on HIV/Aids only with­out ad­dress­ing the re­lated dis­eases such as can­cer. If we ad­dress can­cers we would have ad­dressed HIV,” said Mr Mpofu.

Health ex­perts main­tain that in­fec­tion with HIV weak­ens the im­mune sys­tem and re­duces the body’s abil­ity to fight in­fec­tions that may lead to can­cer.

Peo­ple with HIV are sev­eral times more likely than un­in­fected peo­ple to be di­ag­nosed with Ka­posi sar­coma, at least 70 times more likely to be di­ag­nosed with non-Hodgkin lym­phoma and among women, and at least five times more likely to be di­ag­nosed with cer­vi­cal can­cer.

NAC com­mu­ni­ca­tions of­fi­cer Mrs Tadiwa Ny­atanga-Pfupa said, “NAC pro­cures anti-retro­vi­ral drugs which have led to the re­cov­er­ing of many pa­tients thus re­duc­ing the in­ci­dence of HIV-re­lated can­cers. Since 2012 NAC has been procur­ing anti-can­cer drugs such as Bleomycin, Methotrex­ate, Cis­platin, Dox­oru­bicin among and will con­tinue to do so.”

Ac­cord­ing to the 2013 Zim­babwe Na­tional Can­cer Registry, pub­lished in Au­gust 2015, the num­ber of new can­cer cases in 2013 was 6 548 with 2 062 can­cer deaths.

In 2012, a to­tal of 6 107 cases were recorded with 1 556 deaths. How­ever, 63 853 HIV-re­lated deaths were recorded in 2013 as com­pared to can­cers (UNAids, 2014).

The high per­cent­ages have been at­trib­uted to lack of health-seek­ing be­hav­iours and lack of read­ily avail­able can­cer fa­cil­i­ties.

Can­cer As­so­ci­a­tion of Zim­babwe mon­i­tor­ing and eval­u­a­tion of­fi­cer Mr Love­more Makurirofa at­trib­uted poor health-seek­ing be­hav­iours for fu­elling can­cer.

“Many peo­ple be­come adamant when it comes to is­sues re­gard­ing their re­pro­duc­tive health and many a times they ig­nore the early signs of can­cers and only visit the hos­pi­tal when the can­cers would’ve been at ad­vanced stages,” he said.

“For al­most all can­cers, it takes about 10 years from its pro­gres­sion to stage one. About 81 per­cent of all can­cers recorded in Zim­babwe are di­ag­nosed at ad­vanced stages.”

The most preva­lent can­cers among Zim­bab­weans of all races are cer­vi­cal (18 per­cent), Ka­posi sar­coma (10 per­cent), breast and prostate (seven per­cent each), non-Hodgkin’s lym­phoma and non-mela­m­ona skin can­cer (six per­cent each), oe­soph­a­gus and colo-rec­tal can­cers (four per­cent each), and eye can­cer (three per­cent). Other can­cers ac­count for 35 per­cent of reg­is­tered cases.

Can­cer is a dis­ease caused by un­con­trolled divi­sion of ab­nor­mal cells in the body.

Mr Makurirofa be­moaned the de­fi­ciency of read­ily avail­able can­cer fa­cil­i­ties.

“Can­cer ser­vices aren’t read­ily avail­able in the coun­try and we still have a long way to go. And there is no sus­tain­able fund-rais­ing for can­cers be­cause up un­til now we still haven’t got a can­cer fund.”

Mr Makurirofa is of the view that the to­tal num­ber of new can­cer cases might be an un­der­es­ti­ma­tion as some peo­ple do not ac­cess health ser­vices.

“Sta­tis­tics recorded by the Can­cer Registry aren’t a true re­flec­tion of the new can­cer cases be­cause some peo­ple aren’t ac­cess­ing can­cer ser­vices due to the dis­tance they have to travel and the high costs as­so­ci­ated with seek­ing treat­ment,” he ex­plained.

Costs for di­ag­no­sis and treat­ment are de­ter­mined by the type of can­cer, its lo­ca­tion, the stage at which it is de­tected and the type of treat­ment re­quired.

A ses­sion of ra­dio­ther­apy costs be­tween US$3 000 and US$4 000, while chemo­ther­apy costs be­tween US$100 and US$41 000 per cy­cle de­pend­ing on the stage.

Mr Makurirofa called on the Gov­ern­ment to in­vest in pre­ven­tion of can­cers.

“If Gov­ern­ment in­vests in the pre­ven­tion of can­cers by hold­ing aware­ness cam­paigns on liv­ing healthy and the signs and symp­toms of can­cers, we can be able to cut down on the cases of can­cer treat­ment bur­den,” Mr Makurirofa said.

“De­cen­tral­i­sa­tion of can­cer ser­vices is also a key fac­tor which can as­sist the coun­try to see a re­duc­tion in can­cer cases thereby lift­ing the bur­den of ex­pen­sive can­cer treat­ment amongst the peo­ple.”

Mrs Ny­atanga-Pfupa said NAC would as­sist in de­cen­tral­i­sa­tion of treat­ment and pre­ven­tion ser­vices of HIV-re­lated can­cers.

NAC has also em­barked on an ex­pan­sion drive for cer­vi­cal can­cer screen­ing among HIV-pos­i­tive women at op­por­tunis­tic in­fec­tions clin­ics with sup­port from its part­ners.

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