. . . as cases of deadly disease spiral among children
WITH cancer cases spiralling in Lesotho, government and health professionals have been urged to step up efforts to stem the tide of the deadly disease.
Stakeholders in the health sector say the lack of laws specifically addressing cancer-related challenges and very limited local services for patients were among the causes of the upsurge in mortality rates.
This was said during a press briefing convened by the Ministry of Health on Friday ahead of yesterday’s World Cancer Day commemorations. World Cancer Day is marked globally on 4 February annually to raise awareness of cancer and to encourage its prevention, detection, and treatment.
Held under the theme “We can, I can”, the commemorations highlighted the need for multi-sectoral participation in fighting the scourge.
In Lesotho, the theme was “Childhood Cancer” in light of the rise of cancer cases among children in the Mountain Kingdom.
According to the 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.
“Some children inherit DNA (deoxyribonucleic acid) changes (mutations) from a parent that increase their risk of certain types of cancer.
“These changes are present in every cell of the child’s body, and can often be tested in the DNA of blood cells or other body cells.”
Dr Letsie also noted that some of the DNA changes were linked only with an increased risk of cancer, while others could cause syndromes that also include other health or developmental problems.
She, however, pointed out that most childhood cancers were not caused by inherited DNA changes.
“They are the result of DNA changes that happen early in the child’s life, sometimes before birth. Every time a cell divides into two cells, it must copy its DNA. This process isn’t perfect, and errors sometimes occur, especially when the cells are growing quickly. The kind of gene mutation can happen at any time in life and is called an acquired mutation.”
Cancers in children, Dr Letsie said, were sometimes hard to recognise because they had the same symptoms like common illnesses.
She strongly urged parents not to take symptoms like bone and joint pains, fatigue, weakness, bleeding (especially gums) fever, and weight loss in children for granted.
Among the treatment options for cancer are surgery, radiation, chemotherapy, immunotherapy and targeted therapy.
Dr Letsie said ministry officials were currently negotiating with their Education and Training counterparts on including cancer studies in the school curriculum.
She said the strategy would raise awareness on cancer and help in its early detection.
Plans to build a cancer centre in Lesotho scheduled to be operational by the end of 2020 were also at an advanced stage, Dr Letsie revealed, adding, it would be located near Queen ‘Mamohato Memorial Hospital.
‘Mamosebi Lehema, who works in the Ministry of Health’s Mental Health department, said the paucity of laws regulating the health sector was increasing the number of cancer mortalities in the country.
Ms Lehema said some so-called healers were able to claim they could heal cancer because the Medicine Act Bill which penalises such behaviour “has been gathering dust for years”.
“This issue is of great concern for the ministry. We cannot even ask law enforcement agencies to help because there is no legal tool to help us control the proliferation of medicines in this country. As a result, we are always in damage control mode because of this,” Ms Lehema said, urging members of parliament to pass the draft law for the sake of cancer patients and survivors.
She said many patients were not given counselling prior to receiving treatment in Bloemfontein, even though all health professionals were obligated to provide that service.
Health professionals, Ms Lehema said, were also supposed to refer patients to government psychiatrists to ensure they receive emotional support.
“Unlike other countries where ministries have control over all healthcare facilities and ensure strict ethical practices, in Lesotho we don’t have any clear monitoring programmes for how healthcare facilities operate,” she said.
“However, every health professional is ethically expected to provide counselling services to patients. As much as we are professionals, we are individuals and since there is no monitoring programme, things are not done as expected.”