As the world’s governments, scientists, and medical practitioners battle to control the covid 19 pandemic, experts say the fight against a major disease such as cancer is being slowed or hampered.
World Cancer Day is marked each year on February 4. The Day is set aside to raise awareness of cancer and to encourage its prevention, detection, and treatment.
This year, the theme acccording to the Union for International Cancer Control (UICC) is centred around “I Am And I Will”.
But the group says the fight against cancer has been affected by the focus on Covid and the neglect of cancer patients.
Dr Miriam Mutebi from the UICC, explains cancer patients are vulnerable to Covid 19 infections, thereby making the fight against cancer even harder this time.
“We’ve taken a considerable hit in all areas of the cancer continuum and this has affected all services, whether it’s diagnostics, treatment or survivorship services that are available for patients. What happened is the World Health Organisation conducted a survey around May, which is early in the pandemic. And what we saw was out of about 56 percent of the one hundred and fifty five countries that had been surveyed had shown either partial or total disruption of their cancer care services”. Dr Mutebi explained in an interview with Africanews journalist Jerry Fisayo-Bambi.
In January, the total cases of covid in Africa climbed to over 3.5 million. As governments tighten up measures to deal with a second and stronger wave of the virus, Dr Miriam Mutebi warns of a possible increase in cancer deaths.
“As a result of the lockdown’s patients access and the fact that we’re having the priorities shifted to the pandemic at the expense of other non-communicable diseases like cancers means that we potentially are downstream going to see patients coming in with more advanced cancers already”. she says. Dr. Mutebi then goes on to give the example of Kenya.
“We had a lockdown in March and then that was eased in July and we were having patients coming in with their lumps all the way from February finally coming in for a diagnosis. So there is a potential. We are definitely seeing the downstream effects, which means diagnosis at later stages, which definitely has poorer outcomes”.
The situation however can be saved if necessary actions are taken now, concludes Dr Mutebi, herself, an oncologist at the Aga Khan University Hospital, Kenya. “The pandemic has managed to stop everything in its tracks except the cancer cells. Those are the only things that are still continuing to grow. So that’s why it’s a clarion call to say this should be a priority irrespective whatever else is going on. We still do need to prioritise care for our patients”.
Since the year 2000 cancer deaths have increased in Africa by 45 per cent. According to ‘Think Global Health’, half a million deaths are linked to the disease each year.