We applaud the announcement by the Health Minister, Dr. Chitalu Chilufya, that government will construct two more cancer treatment centres in Southern and Copperbelt Provinces in order to expand prevention and control of the disease.
What makes sad reading though is the fact that this revelation has come after the country recorded over 12,000 new cases of cancer, in 2018, out of which there were 7,380 deaths.
According to the health minister, Zambia also recorded 3,000 new cases of cervical cancer, 1,700 cases of kaposi sarcoma, 1,230 cases of prostate cancer and 900 cases of breast cancer, during the same period.
These are big numbers, with a frightful burden on personal and national health for a lower-income country like ours where, cancer, which was once overshadowed by infectious diseases, has now emerged to be a top killer.
It is also a sad development considering that there is now sufficient technological development to allow for proper diagnosis of the disease and enough medicines to treat cancer.
As pharmaceutical companies intensify research and struggle on how to bring new and innovative cancer medicines and vaccines unto the market, we would like to strongly recommend that the Ministry of Health and its partners change their approach to dealing with this growing problem by focusing more on disease prevention rather than treatment.
In our view, prevention offers a truly cost-effective solution to this problem for a nation like Zambia where poverty is of course a major factor.
Treatment may be as important of course, but it is a painful process, and quiet an expensive undertaking for many Zambians. In our view, it should only be considered as the last resort to the cancer problem.
We suggest prevention because almost half of all cancers are preventable and they are simply about people changing habits.
We know that some lifestyles, like tobacco smoking, physical inactivity, excess weight, unhealthy eating habits, and heavy alcohol use, are the major contributors to cancer development and yet all are modifiable.
Government’s goal should infact be to make more therapies available to more cancer patients, while improving and intensifying prevention efforts and early detection strategies.
We also suggest that the Ministry of Health should roll out outreach programmes, like it has done for Malaria, HIV/AIDS and other diseases, so that more people in communities are sensitized on cancer, prevention and the need to be screened.
Further, we would like to also recommend that cancer screening and sensitizing people on the disease be made part of the overall health and wellness conversations by personnel in all health institutions in order to put seriousness to government’s overall efforts of combatting this developing pandemic in our country.