A DAY set aside to raise awareness on a crucial health issue may have passed earlier in the week unnoticed by many but the threat of the condition continues gnawing irrepressibly at our population and preying even on the lack of information among many communities. 4 February is World Cancer Day, a day meant to raise awareness on the dangers of the disease and how it can be prevented and treated.
A few decades ago, reference to the disease was rare locally but the impact of the cancers on mortality has been devastating with its twin impact with HIV, a story for another day. It is estimated that 9,5 million people worldwide died of cancer last year, translating to about
26 000 deaths daily, with the number projected to grow. In Zimbabwe about 7 000 new cancer cases are reported every year, with 60 percent of the cancers HIV-related, according to the Zimbabwe National Cancer Registry. Health authorities are aware of the disease burden and the lack of awareness on the condition around the country as captured in the national strategy 2014-2018: “The current cancer treatment and palliation services are unable to meet the existing demand. Additionally, and despite great progress in reducing HIV prevalence in recent years, Zimbabwe remains one of the countries most heavily burdened with HIV with an adult prevalence of 15 percent. The large number of people living with HIV results in an even higher number of people who will develop cancer in Zimbabwe,” reads the strategy document.
The idea behind World Cancer Day is to make the disease a priority as it is one of the many non-communicable diseases decimating our populations at an alarming rate.
Communities are expected to hold seminars, public information campaigns and other events to educate people on how to combat cancer through screening and early detection, through healthy eating and physical activity, quitting smoking and also urging health officials to make cancer issues a priority. This year’s theme, “I am and I will” calls for a personal commitment to make a difference in the fight against the disease. There are many interventions that we can make in our communities in terms of supporting cancer patients, encouraging our loved ones to go for cancer screening to ensure early detection that helps in treatment and also sharing information on the condition to remove secrecy and fear around the disease that pervades many communities, shockingly even among some health workers. We are heartened by the Government’s appreciation of the challenge the country faces and what needs to be done. We have seen diagnostic equipment being made available at hospitals around the country as part of the new strategy though we feel more still needs to be done in terms of educational campaigns to raise awareness among the people on the burden of cancer and how HIV increases malignancy by 10 percent, according to experts. Prevention is better than cure. In fact, it is reported that 40 percent of cancers can be prevented through lifestyle changes that range from exercise, healthy diet to quitting smoking and drinking.