The Citizen (Tanzania)
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Cancer is increasingly becoming a major public health problem in the country. There are approximately 21,000 new cancer patients in Tanzania annually, according to the World Health Organisation (WHO).

About 32.5 per cent of all deaths caused by cancer occur among people below 60 years of age. It is shocking that cancer is responsible for the deaths of 43 per cent of women in this age group.

It because of revelations such as this that we see the need to revamp the battle against cancer in the country. A health NGO working on the ground to fight against the disease, Tanzania Youth Alliance (Tayoa), has unveiled disturbing details mid this week.

Tayoa report indicates that in Mwanza, cases of cervical cancer are increasing at an alarming rate in this region, with the latest statistics indicating that by February 2014, out of the 59, 971 women who were screened, 10,000 were diagnosed with cervical cancer. Our concern is that, most likely, the Mwanza scenario is not an isolated case.

Cervical cancer, which is often caused by the sexually transmitted human papilloma virus, can be prevented by a vaccine for girls, and can be successfully treated if diagnosed early, according to Tayoa.

Cancer of the cervix represents between 35 and 40 per cent of all cancer cases and about 55 to 65 per cent of all cancers in women. Current estimates show that every year, 7,515 women in Tanzania are diagnosed with cervical cancer and 6,009 die of the disease.

Delays in diagnosis is a problem for cancer patients in Tanzania and the majority of them die during the first year of being diagnosed. According to the Foundation for Cancer Care in Tanzania, in Africa, being diagnosed with cancer is equated with death sentence.

Survival rates

While cancer incidence on the continent is about one-third that of North America, the death rate is nearly the same, indicating that survival rates for cancer in Africa are far lower than in more developed countries.

The Foundation says lack of cancer education, screening services and detection methods means that Tanzanians often don’t discover cancer until it is too late. Screening for cervical cancer is part of a special programme launched two years ago by Tayoa in Mwanza to ensure the disease is discovered early, and if that is done successfully, many lives will be saved because cervical cancer is 99 per cent preventable and prevention is necessary for its reduction and control.

It is for this reason we support the Tayoa screening initiative and urge all players to do everything they can to ensure that all Tanzanians, women in particular, undergo screening for early detection and prompt treatment of the disease.

We acknowledge ongoing efforts aimed to battle the disease and particularly ensuring that many people undergo screening. Such efforts, including the one highlighted by medics in Mwanza who are working with Tayoa and other players in the health sector in a special screening programme, must be fully supported.

We need to do a lot more in battling cancer because the alarming rates suggest that, as a country, we need a much broader strategy for scaling down the disease burden, at least by improving screening as a starting point.