Hillcrest Aids Charity Trust counsellor, Thobeka Ntshangase, comforts a patient diagnosed with cancer at the centre’s Respite Unit. Picture: Tanya Waterworth
Hillcrest Aids Charity Trust counsellor, Thobeka Ntshangase, comforts a patient diagnosed with cancer at the centre’s Respite Unit. Picture: Tanya Waterworth

Cancer cases soar during lockdown

By Tanya Waterworth Time of article published Jun 5, 2021

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A single mother of two, Nokuzola Ngubane, 40, was diganosed with cancer in December. It has spread into her spine, but Ngubane is determined to fight the big C.

She is currently in the Respite Unit at the Hillcrest Aids Charity Trust (HACT) and said this week that the support of family had kept her going.

“It started when my legs were very painful and the next day when I tried to walk, I found I couldn’t. Cancer is not an easy thing, but you have to learn to accept what is happening. I miss my kids a lot, but I know they are safe and happy with my family. I’m just happy that I have the support of my family during this time,” said Ngubane.

HACT chief executive officer, Candace Davidson, said that more than a year of lockdown has had its impact and while their services were predominantly focused on those with HIV/Aids and TB, the organisation had seen an increase in the need for care for those with cancer.

She said that with the centre having opened in 1990 and navigated 30 years of the HIV/Aids pandemic, the increase in cancer cases could be attributed to different factors.

“There has been a significant increase in the past few years, whereas previously we rarely dealt with a cancer case. We are becoming known for caring for cancer patients.

“STIs (sexually transmitted infections) such as HPV (Human papillomavirus) predisposes women to cervical cancer and HPV rates are also very high,” said Davidson, adding that there is an HPV vaccine.

She said the most common cancers presently appear to be cervical and penile, as well as head- and neck-related cancers.

“There are a lot of awareness campaigns around breast cancer, but an area of concern is a lack of awareness around other cancers such as HPV and the need for early screening to get treatment in time.

“We have heard on the ground reports that there has been a hesitancy to go to clinics for HIV/TB treatment due to a fear of catching Covid and we have had a lockdown campaign regarding the importance of adhering and maintaining a medication programme,” said Davidson.

She also highlighted that an overburdened health system and lack of oncologists had also had an impact on early cancer diagnosis.

“Those who are most vulnerable have a waiting period of three to six months and someone who has stage 4 cancer cannot wait that long. By the time they get a diagnosis, they are too weak to undergo chemotherapy,” she said.

Meanwhile, Head of Public Relations for Highway Hospice, Johno Oldsm, said that there was a desperate need for more palliative care on the ground and that the organisation had also seen an increase in cancer cases since lockdown.

He said this could be attributed to different reasons, but that primarily those who were not feeling well had not sought treatment because a Covid test was required before they could be seen. Or that those with cancer also had co-morbidities creating a fear of catching Covid should they visit a clinic or hospital.

Highway Hospice closed their in-patient facility last year, tightening its budget and focusing on home visits for the terminally ill across eThekwini.

“When our nurses go for home visits where they look after patients who can’t get to a clinic, they are often being approached for help in the community. They will always help, but these are our frontline staff who have to re-sanitise for every visit, which is time-consuming and costly,” said Olds.

He also highlighted that the patient profile for cancer was getting younger with more aggressive cancers. This has a socio-economic ripple effect as such patients may still be looking after children and are economically active.

“Their timelines are also shorter and children are being affected by bereavement and grief. This also hits our nurses hard. The need for more palliative care is definitely there,” he said, adding that there was also ‘donor fatigue’ since lockdown, which was impacting NGOs and the services provided to communities.

CANSA National Manager: Care Promotion, Lorraine Govender, said the occupancy of their care homes remained low.

“In the absence of scientific data, we can deduce that this may be due to the public’s reluctance to seek cancer treatment and screening due to Covid-19 concerns. We have not received any reports on delays to access cancer treatment,” said Govender.

Independent on Saturday

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