The burden of cancer

The burden of cancer

MASERU – WHEN ’Mathabang Serabele died two weeks ago, few paid attention to the cause of her death: breast cancer.
Instead, all eyes were on her socio-economic circumstances that saw her being nursed by her nine-year-old grandchild too young to shoulder the responsibility of looking after the ailing grandmother as well as siblings and cousins who included two toddlers.

For the police, attention was the criminal element as the law enforcers vigorously hunted down Serabele’s daughters who abandoned their children on her doorstep to search for employment in South Africa. Teachers at a school where some of the children attended were more worried by the effects of the situation on the children’s academic progress. As for the village social worker, poverty that was affecting the family and the plight of the children were her main concern.

Scant attention was paid to the breast cancer that slowly ate away Serabele – a situation that highlights the plight of people enduring breast cancer.
Instead of investing in its own infrastructure to fight breast cancer, the country is spending huge sums of money paying South African medical institutions that take in many patients referred from Lesotho.

It is not clear whether Serabele, who lived in a poor and hard to reach rural area of Liotlong in Mosalemane constituency, was one of the many Basotho patients whose cancer illnesses are treated in Bloemfontein, South Africa. It is also not clear whether she was transferred to Lesotho’s only referral hospital, Queen ’Mamohato Memorial Hospital at any given time for onward referral to Bloemfontein.

The grandchildren, whom the Ministry of Social Development says it is taking to a children’s home, are too young to know some of the details.
Serabele’s two daughters were away in South Africa during her illness.

What is known, however, is that Serabele died of a much feared condition on which Lesotho spends a lot of money to fight.
Lesotho paid M110 million last year alone to South African hospitals for treatment of cancer patients who are being transferred there, according to Health Ministry Principal Secretary Monaphathi Maraka.

“We first have to register cancer so that it can be a noticeable disease like any other disease,” Maraka says. He says global research shows that eight million people will die of cancer infection worldwide, “so we have to work very hard to prevent it”. “So in fighting this disease, the Health Ministry is preparing to build a clinic to treat cancer near Queen ’Mamohato Memorial Hospital which will enable patients to get treatment near home and get quick services,” he says.

Dr Mosilinyane Letsie, the Disease Control Director in the Ministry of Health, says most of cancer patients are referred to South Africa for treatment at the moment. “The results of this are inequitable access to services, late stage representations and poor treatment outcome that lead to significant number of cancer patients dying and a huge financial burden to the government of Lesotho,” Letsie says.

“So we want to prevent all this and help Basotho to get better services than being transferred to South Africa,” she says. The Director General-Health Services, Dr ‘Nyane Letsie says about 1 300 Basotho are referred to South Africa for cancer treatment every year. Letsie says if there was a cancer facility in the country that would save the country a lot of money.

Letsie says all health centres in the country should provide screening services for cancer to scale up the fight against the disease.
Dr Letsie says the initiative helps in diagnosing the disease at an early stage. The recent statistics by Health Grove reveals that for men, the deadliness of breast cancer in Lesotho peaks at age 80 plus. It kills men at the lowest rate at ages 20-24.

Women are killed at the highest rate from breast cancer in Lesotho at age 80 plus. It is least deadly to women between the ages 15 and 19.

At 139.7 deaths per 100 000 women in 2013, the peak mortality rate for women was higher than that of men, which was 10.1 per 100 000 men.
The statistics for cervical cancer by HPV Information Centre, whose report was published in July last year, shows that about 312 new cervical cancer cases are diagnosed annually in Lesotho (estimations for 2012).

It notes that cervical cancer ranks as the leading cause of female cancer in Lesotho. It states that cervical cancer is the second most common female cancer in women aged 15 to 44 years in Lesotho. Prime Minister Motsoahae Thabane, speaking at the commemoration of World Cancer Day on February 5, urged Basotho to join hands in the fight against cancer as it is dangerous and kills.

Thabane says cancer should be prevented at all cost. He urges men to be faithful to their sexual partners and avoid engaging in extra-marital affairs for their own health “because such affairs are risk factors to contracting prostate cancer”.

There is no cancer registry in Lesotho. However, a biomedical scientist Sejojo Phaaroe says in a 2007 report 13.5 percent of men had prostate cancer.
Phaaroe, who is also the National Cancer Programme Coordinator, told people attending Cancer Day commemorations that the cancer burden in Lesotho calls for a global response.

February 5 is the World Cancer Day and is commemorated annually. A breast cancer survivor, ‘Mampiti Mpiti, says she was diagnosed in 2010.
She urges both men and women to have routine check-ups, also urging those with cancer not to lose hope.

Thooe Ramolibeli

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