BY TAPIWA ZIVIRA
Treatment and management of cancer is often a long process that involves travelling to and from health institutions and in Zimbabwe, this has posed serious challenges for many.
According to Cancer Control, in Zimbabwe, cancer is a major cause of morbidity and mortality with over 5 000 new cases and over 1 500 cancer deaths per year.
According to World Health Organisation (WHO) projections, the majority of people with cancer worldwide live in developing countries.
These countries are facing a growing double burden of both infectious and non-communicable diseases such as cancer.
This is causing enormous pressure on already overstretched health systems.
The African region, in particular, is facing a major public health challenge due to the rising burden of cancer.
While Zimbabwe has worked on improving awareness about cancer to get people screened early, there is still a huge gap as a significant number of patients present themselves when the cancer is at advanced stages and this affects the survival rates.
In addition to this, access to screening, early detection, diagnostic and palliative care services are limited due to resource constraints and most diagnostic treatment and palliative care services are centralised, which limits access for many patients.
Cancer treatment is only available at two public hospitals in Harare and Bulawayo and there are no private radiotherapy services in the country.
The functional capacity of these centres is not sufficient due to a myriad of challenges that include limited radiotherapy equipment, chemotherapy drugs, pain control medication and skilled staff.
This centralised nature of the services also poses transport and accommodation problems, leading to treatment delays.
But all hope is not lost.
First lady Auxillia Mnangagwa, through her Angel of Hope Foundation, has made a significant contribution that is set to ease some of the logistical challenges faced by patients on cancer treatment.
The Foundation has set up a shelter in Harare’s Avondale suburb, near Parirenyatwa Group of Hospitals, where cancer patients get some of their treatment.
The house, which is a fully-fledged facility with a kitchen, lounge and bedroom, will accommodate cancer patients for free for the duration of the treatment phases.
The administration at Parirenyatwa hospital screens deserving patients in need of accommodation before referring them to the Angel of Hope Foundation for assistance and the hospital will provide the shuttle service between the hospital and the house.
This is because some patients may require up to a week while going through treatment, and without accommodation, they end up sleeping in the open, a situation that can worsen their health condition.
In some situations, patients would spend days living in the bathroom and other facilities. They are also exposed to patients with other ailments, who would be coming for treatment risking infection.
“I was diagnosed of cervical cancer in 2019 and whenever I came in for treatment, I would sleep outside because I do not have relatives here in Harare.
“In the end, I was absconding from my treatment, but now with this facility, I am confident that I have resumed my therapy as I will be able to have a decent place to sleep, and access to toiletries, a kitchen and even a lounge for my entertainment,” said a patient from Mutoko.
Another patient, who comes from Rusape said she always dreaded going for her therapy.
“When I came for my last treatment, I was pleasantly surprised to know that the first lady had set up a place where we could put up,” she said
Without a shelter, some patients ended up sleeping in a tent, and in some cases when it rained, hospital staff would go out of their way to accommodate the patients in some of the unoccupied wards.
Apart from providing accommodation, the facility also cuts down on transport costs as some patients will not need to return back to their far away homes and come back the following day.
“I now just need a two way ticket when I am going for my usually three day long therapy knowing that I will not need to travel back each day,” said a cancer patient from Chinhoyi.
The initiative is one of many by the Angel of Hope Foundation, whose mission is to ‘support some of the most vulnerable communities in society through providing access to healthcare, social services, education and economic empowerment initiatives with particular emphasis on women, youth and children.’
The Foundation, through its mobile clinic is actively involved in ensuring that men and women are screened for prostate cancer, breast cancer and cervical cancer, which are the major cancers affecting the country.