“Save us,” cancer patients plead with Parliament to legislate cushion against exorbitant costs of therapy

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By Leopold Munhende | Chief Correspondent

CANCER patients have pleaded with government to subsidise the extortionate costs of chemotherapy and other associated hospice services, which are out of the reach of ordinary citizens.

Addressing parliament’s health committee Tuesday, cancer patients presented a petition that seeks to compel government to set policies that make treatment free, taking a cue from the free HIV treatment policy.

In an emotional plea, the patients told parliamentarians between two and three people in a WhatsApp group comprising cancer patients, were dying each day, with more outside the groupings succumbing to the scourge too.

“We have a group of cancer patients, and every day we have at least two or three members dying. Imagine, what happens with others that we do not know,” said one of the patients, Lucia Nyakudya.

“Chemotherapy at Parirenyatwa is becoming a challenge because we are now too many. Sometimes one can be booked for a date two to three months from the time of booking.

“We have nowhere to go. Most of those in our group have no money to pay for either chemotherapy or radiotherapy; medical aid societies are failing to cover for this. We cannot afford medication; may you please pass a policy that will make it free as you managed to do for HIV.”

“We appeal to parliament and the health ministry to assist us. If we are treated, we will survive.”

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Cervical, prostate and breast cancers account for 66% of the total burden in Zimbabwe, with a fatality rate of over 61%, according to the health ministry.

Estimates indicate 3 043 women are diagnosed with cervical cancer each year.

Nyasha Mupande, a cancer patient, told the committee therapy was costly while a single machine was servicing five million patients in Zimbabwe.

“The cost of cancer treatment is very high and beyond the reach of most patients including basic pain medication that is very critical in the advanced stages,” said Mupande.

“Some treatment regimes are not available locally while some patients who can pool resources have to pay in foreign currency to import these drugs, something which could be avoided if the Ministry of Health allocated funds to import these.

“The diagnostic and treatment infrastructure of cancer in Zimbabwe is inadequate. I am acutely aware of a number of limitations that the country faces in regard to cancer diagnostics, treatment and management.”

Local hospitals do not have a single positron emission tomography (PET) scanner, the most suitable diagnostic and staging equipment for solid tumors. The available CT scanners are few and expensive for cancer patients who need regular scans to monitor treatment progress and disease spread.

“The radio therapy machines which are available at two public hospitals Parirenyatwa and Mpilo are constantly breaking down… all are broken down so there is no working radiotherapy machine in the public healthcare.

“I am reliably informed that there are no local technicians to repair the radiotherapy machines so each time they breakdown, a foreign expert is hired to come and repair them,” Mupande lamented.

The International Atomic Energy which is the authority for nuclear medicine recommends one radio therapy machine for every one million.

“As it stands Zimbabwe has one machine for approximately every five million if we include the ones in private health care.”

Patients who can afford opt for treatment in South Africa and India as the two countries were better equipped to deal with various types of cancer.

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