LIKE all other sub-Saharan countries, Lesotho has stepped up its fight against the HIV/AIDS pandemic which has left a trail of devastation through the loss of lives which has affected production and left vulnerable child-headed families in its wake.
Government and other stakeholders should be rightly praised for all the initiatives that have been undertaken to deal with the scourge although the benefits are yet to be fully realised as our country continues to be second in the world in terms of HIV infections.
And while the attention has been virtually on this pandemic, a new, equally, if not more sinister scourge in the form of various types of cancers has taken root.
Often attracting less global and local attention, cancer has been silently wreaking havoc and what is more, the disease takes far less time to consume its victims unlike HIV which can be managed and may even be prevented from developing into full-blown AIDS.
Yesterday, Lesotho joined the rest of the world in commemorating World Cancer Day amid saddening revelations that global cases of the disease had increased by 33 percent in the decade from 2005 to 2015.
Globally in 2015, there were a staggering 17,5 million cases and 18,7 million deaths.
For men, the most common type is prostate cancer (1,6 million cases) and breast cancer for women (2,4 million cases).
According to the Lesotho’s Health Ministry’s Director for Disease Control, Dr Mosilinyane Letsie, between 100 and 150 children battling different types of cancer were being referred to Bloemfontein, South Africa every year for treatment.
Dr Letsie said the most common types of cancers among children were leukaemia (blood cancer), brain tumours (growth of abnormal cells in the tissues of the brain), neuroblastoma (which is formed by immature nerve cells), Wilms tumour (kidneys) and lymphoma (cells of the immune system).
“Cancer is the second leading cause of death in children younger than 15 years old after accidents,” she said, adding some cancer cases were caused by radiation exposure and proximity to smokers.
In view of these frightening statistics, Dr Letsie said plans to build a cancer centre in Lesotho scheduled to be operational by the end of 2020 are at an advanced stage, adding, it would be located near Queen ‘Mamohato Memorial Hospital in Maseru.
While this is commendable, the truth of the matter is that urgent action is required here and now and 2020 is just too far.
Many lives would have been lost by that time and the implications are just too ghastly to contemplate: lost productivity, more vulnerable child-headed families among a host of socio-economic ills.
We therefore call upon government and all stakeholders not to tarry any longer. The time to join hands and invest in programmes to fight the scourge is now.
We need serious investment in facilities, in educational programmes to raise awareness about detecting early signs of the disease.
The cancer fight must be treated with the urgency it deserves and it must rank alongside HIV/AIDS in the policy framework.