10 May 2011

South Africa's growing cancer burden in spotlight

Government leaders, cancer advocates and survivors are meeting in Cape Town this week to discuss South Africa's growing cancer burden and to urge a national call to action.


Cancer is a non-communicable disease which can be defeated through early detection and appropriate cancer management. But how many people can afford the treatment, especially if certain hospitals don’t necessarily have the required amenities to treat this killer disease?

This week, government leaders including the first lady of South Africa, her Excellency Madam Tobeka Zuma, join together with national and international cancer advocates and cancer survivors to spotlight the growing cancer burden in South Africa.

Discussions about how to generate more attention and resources towards cancer will take place at the Voice of Cancer Survivor Forum at the Cape Town City Council Chambers, Civic Centre Cape Town from the 12th to the 13th May 2011. This forum was organised by lead agency, Campaigning for Cancer, collaborative South African cancer NGOs and is supported by the American Cancer Society and Livestrong.

The main objective of this forum is to create and support a comprehensive, survivor-informed national call to action, which organisations and individuals are able to implement in order to place cancer as a priority on national and international health agendas.

"Livestrong is proud to stand with Campaigning for Cancer, the American Cancer Society and all the participating organisations to present the Voice of Cancer Survivor Forum, a landmark event and significant advancement for the fight against cancer in South Africa,” said Doug Ulman, Livestrong president and CEO.  "This effort is turning statistics into stories, bringing visibility to gaps in cancer control and highlighting the need for cancer to be a stronger priority on the country’s health agenda.”

Research has been conducted regarding the levels of understanding that South Africans have about cancer and these qualitative and quantitative findings will be revealed at the forum. South Africa still does not have a finalised National Cancer Control Plan on tackling cancer.

Cancer burden to double by 2030 

Chief Executive Officer of the American Cancer Society John R Seffrin, PHD says: "This is a pivotal year for all of us to step up with a unified voice and continue the drumbeat at every opportunity to transform the global health agenda and encourage all government leaders to attend the UN high level meeting on non-communicable diseases in September."

"Recently, the society released a global report stating that Africa’s cancer burden is expected to nearly double by 2030 (1.28 million new cases and 970 000 cancer deaths), with most of these cases diagnosed at an advanced, deadly stage.

"The united voice that South African leaders and Campaigning for Cancer are presenting this week to join cancer survivors with government leaders is a model for other countries around the world. Along with Livestrong the American Cancer Society is honored to be part of this historic event.”

Campaigning for Cancer Head of Strategy Lauren Pretorius echoes these sentiments and encourages the government to heed the call for an official plan of action on cancer.

"South Africa has made progress in the past three years, however we still don’t have an adequately funded and centralised cancer data depository which can speak to the burden of cancer. Currently there is only a draft National Cancer Control Plan which should act as the country’s high level plan of action."

'Death sentence' perception of cancer

Among the challenges facing potential cancer survivors is the “death sentence” perception which demoralises patients who could receive treatment and fully recover. Other challenges include the lack of access to screening services, the social stigma and misconceptions about cancer and the financial burden of cancer.

Current Chairperson for Campaigning for Cancer Neil Kirby says: "Treatment is either accessible through private funding or public funding. Members of medical schemes have benefits that are designed to pay for their treatment. These benefits may be subject to limitations that require patents to pay a portion of the treatments costs. Such a burden may have catastrophic financial effects for some patients who are not informed about mechanics of medical scheme coverage or how to select the correct benefits.

“Patients in the public healthcare system often wait long periods for treatments or have to travel vast distances to access healthcare services. With the impending implementation of a National Health System, the treatment and screening of cancer may have to be considered as a priority by such a scheme in order to ensure that our country does not lose its most valuable assets, its people.”

Providing a human face to cancer statistics

But the lack of resourceful strategies designed to address cancer is not a challenge only faced by South Africa. The battle against cancer has not reached the priorities of many governments across the globe. Cancer and its societal effects do not form part of the United Nations Millennium development goals. The Voice of Cancer Survivor Forum forms part of the measures that will ensure that cancer becomes part and parcel of a global health agenda.

Cancer survivors and local cancer organisations will have a unique opportunity to tell their stories at the forum, thus providing a human and compelling face to cancer statistics. The emphasis on patient care concerns and formulated recommendations, which serve as a resource for health professionals and authorities in the ongoing effort to improve patient care, awareness and access, the unique outcomes of this forum will be consolidated into a National Call to Action.

This National Call to Action will result in a presentation of the issues discussed at the forum at the United Nations High Level Meeting on non-communicable diseases.

Campaigning for cancer press release

- (Health24, May 2011)

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