A LOCAL non-profit organisation that provides support, information, and advocacy to children with cancer and their families, has released troubling statistics indicating that childhood cancer cases are on the rise in the rural parts of Zambia.
Increased cancer rates are apt to stir concern among parents and rightly so.
It is unfortunate that childhood cancer cases are rising at a time that the national health system is grappling with the burden of adult cancer rates which sadly – going by how busy the Lusaka-based Cancer Diseases Hospital is – are on an upward trajectory as well.
Available data collected by various researchers show increased childhood cancer rates likely stem from environmental factors.
Over the past four decades, the environment has changed significantly, with more and more chemicals entering the air and water, combined with genetic traits.
Cancer Diseases Hospital (CDH) head of clinical care Susan Msadabwe said although childhood cancer cannot be cured, dealing with the disease required early detection and treatment.
The World Health Organisation has identified cancer as a leading cause of death for children and adolescents. The likelihood of surviving a diagnosis of childhood cancer depends on the country in which the child lives. In high-income countries with robust health care systems, more than 80 per cent of children with cancer are cured, but in many low and medium income countries (LMICs) like Zambia, less than 30 per cent are cured.
The reasons for lower survival rates in LMICs include: delay in diagnosis, an inability to obtain an accurate diagnosis, inaccessible therapy, abandonment of treatment, death from toxicity (side effects), and avoidable relapse.
Because it is generally not possible to prevent cancer in children, the most effective strategy to reduce the burden of cancer in children and improve outcomes is to focus on a prompt, correct diagnosis followed by effective, evidence-based therapy with tailored supportive care.
Many times, rural dwellers who do not know the tell-tale signs of cancer do not realise what has hit their kid’s till it is too late.
This is where the advocacy being championed by the Kayula Foundation comes into play.
For starters, parents in rural areas need to be taught and do their best to limit their children’s exposure to pesticides, cigarette smoke and other known environmental toxins, which could increase a child’s cancer risk.
Early diagnosis translates into better chances of survival and this can only be done if parents – who in most cases are the primary caregivers – know what to look out for as well as the warning signs.