World Cancer Day: a collective voice

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What is World Cancer Day all about? Many of us turn a blind eye and ignore the harsh realities of this disease until it affects one of us or someone close to us.

Cancer is the leading cause of death globally and the top killer among the non-communicable disease (NCDs) which are the major health target of government and private sector health alike. This deadly toll wreaks havoc in communities, affects productivity and places demands on the national and health department budgets. But what is being done about this in South Africa?

World Cancer Day is celebrated globally on 4th of February and Childhood Cancer Day following on 15th of February. The focus is on cancer awareness and to encourage cancer prevention, early detection, and effective treatment.

There are so many myths out there that focus on the inability to talk about cancer, that there are no signs or symptoms of cancer, there is nothing one can do about cancer and that people don’t have the right to cancer care. The Union for International Cancer Control (UICC) focused their 2014 campaign on debunking these myths. (http://www.uicc.org/world-cancer-day-2014-debunk-myths). The global focus is on cancer awareness and early diagnosis. This would result in a reduction of the cancer incidence rate significantly but requires a systematic approach by government and political will to ensure that cancer remains a priority disease.

“In South Africa, lumping cancer with NCD’s, as a programme intervention, will not necessarily allow for a focused approach that cancer necessitates,” says  Salomé Meyer Executive Committee member of the Cancer Alliance.

According to the latest report released by the National Cancer Registry (NCR) (http://www.nioh.ac.za/), 55 126 new histological cases were reported for 2006. This figure does not reflect the true figure of cancer incidence as the NCR is only a pathology based registry and does not contain all the information from the private sector. A new regulation was passed in 2011 which requires medical doctors and health facilities that confirm cancer cases, to report their findings to the NCR.

“This system is still in the process of being implemented,” says Francios Peenz, Executive Committee member, “And therefor does not allow for the measurement of the true cancer burden in South Africa. This   impacts negatively on proper planning of cancer services across the cancer continuum in South Africa.”

In November 2013, linked to the UICC World Leaders Summit in Cape Town, the Cancer Alliance delivered a strong Call to Action, focusing on all stakeholders. Cancer is a complex disease that requires multiple treatment modalities being used to develop an individualised treatment plan for each individual.  This makes it a costly disease to manage. In addition, in South Africa, where the prevalence of HIV/AIDS and TB is high, there should be added focus on co-morbidity prevalence.

The Call to Action focused on four key areas that needed urgent attention. The current state of cancer is:

  • There are no accurate, current statistics on the cancer incidence and mortality in South Africa. We therefore cannot determine our efficacy in respect of early diagnosis and treatment outcomes and we cannot plan effectively for cancer services across the cancer continuum.
  • There is no adopted and updated National Cancer Control Plan for South Africa.  A process that has stalled since 2008.
  • Cancer diagnosis and treatment services are not rendered on an equitable basis in South Africa. There is a disparity between provinces and also between private and public health care.
  • Cancer care specialists and health care professionals are not trained adequately to identify and detect the early warning signs of cancer in children and adults.

What will you be doing to show your support on World Cancer Day? Help debunk the myths and stigmas surrounding cancer. Let’s raise our collective voices in the name of improving our general knowledge around cancer and dismissing misconceptions about the disease. Visit www.canceralliance.co.za  or follow us on Twitter @CancerAllianceZA to find out more information.

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