M144 million spent on cancer referrals to SA
LESOTHO’S lack of facilities to treat cancer continues to bleed the fiscus heavily. This amid reports that the government spent M144 million on cancer referrals to South Africa in 2021 alone. The monthly cost of sending patients to South Africa for treatment was M12 million while the expenditure on one patient ranged from M150 000 to M200 000.
The statistics were revealed by the Director General of Health Services, ‘Nyane Letsie, during the World Cancer Day commemorations in Maseru on Friday.
“We spent M144 million in the past year on paying South African health institutions for the treatment of our cancer patients,” Dr Letsie said.
“It costs us M12 million per month to pay for treatment. The cost of treating one patient from start to finish ranges from M150 000 to M200 000. Clearly, these are huge amounts that we are paying and the spending will only be reduced when we start offering some cancer services locally,” Dr Letsie said.
She said cancer had become a major health concern as it was now the second leading cause of death for women and fifth for men.
She said cancer of the cervix was the leading cause of death among female cancer patients.
“Cancer is now a major cause of morbidity and mortality in Lesotho, being the fifth cause of death among adult men and second among female adults.”
World Cancer Day is marked globally on 4 February annually to raise awareness of cancer and to encourage its prevention, detection, and treatment.
The 2022 to 2024 commemorations are being held under the theme, “close the care gap”.
According to https://www.worldcancerday.org/about/2022-2024-world-cancer-day-campaign, this year “the ‘Close the Care Gap’ campaign is all about understanding and recognising the inequities in cancer care around the globe.
“It is about having an open mind, challenging assumptions and looking at the hard facts, that is, inequity in cancer care costs lives and people who seek cancer care hit barriers at every turn.
“Income, education, location and discrimination based on ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, age, disability and lifestyle are just a few of the factors that can negatively affect care. The gap in cancer care affects everyone, including you and your loved ones. These barriers are not set in stone. They can be changed.
“This is the year to question the status quo and help reduce stigma; to listen to the perspectives of the people living with cancer and their communities and let those lived experiences guide our thoughts and actions.
That’s how we can begin to imagine a better way of doing things and to build a fairer vision of the future—a future where people live healthier lives and have better access to health and cancer services, no matter where they are born, grow, age, work or live.”
Commenting on the commemorations’ theme, Dr Letsie said the government had made “some positive progress towards closing the care gap in Lesotho”.
She said plans were underway for the construction of a cancer hospital in hospital in Lesotho which would reduce the burden and costs of sending patients to South Africa for treatment.
She said that a chemotherapy unit that had been established at Queen Mamohato Memorial Hospital (QMMH) would be fully operational once they had recruited staffers to man the facility.
“There are three main areas that we are looking at (to close the care gap). One being the provision of infrastructure, the other being the recruitment of human resources and the third being the procurement of drugs and supplies. It is worth noting that despite the delay in constructing the cancer hospital, we are glad that the process has begun. I’m sure that now that the health ministry is in charge (of QMMH), it will soon announce what it will take for the continuation of the project.
“We also wish to inform the nation that after the government took over QMMH, it established a special unit within the hospital to provide cancer services. We have begun employing staff to make sure that chemotherapy is provided at QMMH,” Dr Letsie said.
She said plans were underway to ensure that cancer services are provided at other health facilities in various districts.
“What is key and needs to be communicated to the Basotho nation is that, for the first time in the country we have a Mosotho oncologist. The doctor is already here and has been welcomed,” Dr Letsie said, adding two more students were currently undergoing training to become oncologists. She did not say where they were undergoing training and when they were expected to graduate.