Influx of herbalists hindering cancer treatment — says top oncologist

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By Mary Taruvinga

PARIRENYATWA Group of Hospitals head of oncology, Nothando Mutizira has expressed concern over the proliferation of herbalists, who she claims are blocking possible success stories for cancer patients.

Mutizira said most of their cancer patients are presenting late because they first seek herbal medicines before deciding to get professional medical treatment.

She was responding to questions by members of the parliamentary Portfolio Committee on Health on a fact-finding visit to the medical institution on Tuesday.

“Unfortunately, 80 percent of our patients present with a stage 3-4 disease and once patients present with advanced disease the cure rate and success stories are much lower,” she said.

“I’m not saying we have none (success stories), we do have some cancers that are detected at an early stage, which is about 20 percent of our patients and in these instances, you do get a much better survival rate.

“But the bulk of our patients unfortunately do not end up doing so well because they come very late for various reasons.

“Mainly due to issues to do with awareness and also this current outbreak in herbal medicines which most patients tend to prefer to use… actually because they tend to use herbs before they seek assistance at health centres.

“So usually by the time the patients come to see an oncologist their cancer is more advanced than when it was actually diagnosed because they were using alternative medicines before seeking medical attention,” Mutizira explained.

The top oncologist said there is an increase of cancer patients locally, with the sole radiotherapy centre in the country now attending to over 150 patients daily.

This is despite the fact that the radiotherapy machines are currently down.

The centre is currently offering chemotherapy and brachytherapy for cervical cancer patients and the space is becoming smaller.

The story is, however, a bit different in the haematology department which specifically deals with disorders related to blood, bone marrow, and lymphatic system.

Moses Chatambudza, a specialist hematologist who heads the department at Parirenyatwa Hospital, said 40-50 percent of patients undergo successful curative therapy.

“Even if our patients are coming late, at an advanced stage, mostly at stage 3 and 4 of their cancers, safely I can say above 40-50 will be cured at the end of the cycle, at the end of their chemotherapy.

“So, our success rate is of course about half of those patients going back home cured but of course we want it to be as high as 80 -90 percent as much as possible especially if we can have chemotherapy, blood products and if we can set bone marrow services here,” he said.

Chatambudza said lives could be saved because patients will no longer have to travel to India for these services.

“We need to make it even better,” he said.

Despite a huge turnout of patients, Parirenyatwa cannot offer mammography for breast cancer on its own since its machine has been down for over 15 years.

However, this service is currently being offered with the help of its partner, Angel of Hope.

Delayed or cancelled cases are also resulting in advancing and spreading of cancers whilst patients await treatment.