TODAY, as the world commemorates World Cancer Day, South African organisations launch nationwide awareness campaigns under the theme “Close the care gap”.
The campaigns are meant to increase knowledge about cancer in its different forms and encourage the treatment of patients and provision of medication.
This as the country faces a challenge around the treatment and awareness of cancer, where people do not know enough about it and the symptoms; and as timely diagnosis, treatment and care falls short of international prescriptions.
Treatment of cancer in South Africa is largely attainable in public hospitals, where the best doctors in the land are available from tertiary institutions, and where equipment is also found.
But, those who are concerned about this have said, the country’s system is dysfunctional, especially with the history of discrimination based on race and gender.
“The current provincial healthcare system is focused on a primary care model that only makes provision for cervical and breast cancer in the Ideal Clinic Algorithm. The consequence is that staff at these primary healthcare clinics are not cancer-minded, failing to ensure early diagnosis of all cancers at this level of care.
“This results in weak referral systems, with poor provider-patient understanding impacting negatively on prompt diagnosis, and on timeous referral to tertiary-level treatment and care,” the Cancer Alliance said.
They said there were massive inequities in cancer care: “… and this is the harsh reality – between provinces, between rural and urban areas, and even within cities themselves.”
On the international front the day is being marked under the theme “Close the care gap”, with the recently released Union for International Cancer Control (UICC) World Cancer Day 2024 Equity Report revealing how certain populations experienced barriers to accessing health services, undermining their ability to prevent and survive cancer.
“These barriers relate to socio-economic factors such as gender, age, income and education levels, geographical location and ethnicity, and are also caused by prejudices and assumptions based on similar factors,” the report said.
President of Reach for Recovery International, Ann Steyn, said the healthcare system in the country showed significant disparities, despite a progressive constitution that recognised human rights.
“A majority of the population relies on public healthcare, which varies in quality and specialisation. Diagnostic and radiation equipment are in short supply, particularly in public hospitals not linked to academic institutions.”
She said at least 84% of the nearly 60 million population accessing public healthcare faced enormous challenges as the treatment varied, with only five out of nine provinces offering specialised cancer care.
“Moreover, most cancers are diagnosed at a late stage due to lack of proper early detection and screening systems, affecting survival rates adversely.”
The barriers of the past remained entrenched, among them gender and racial equity, and they exacerbated the situation. “In South Africa, only 20% of healthcare professionals are in the public sector, with 70% of them being white males treating a majority of patients who are people of colour.”
This, said Steyn, could very often create challenges for diagnosis and treatment if there was no mutual language understanding or cultural background consideration.
In Gauteng the DA said they had found that about 3 000 cancer patients at Johannesburg’s Charlotte Maxeke Hospital were currently suffering because a treatment deal with private hospitals had not been finalised.
“This despite R784 million budgeted in April last year,” DA health spokesperson Jack Bloom said.
The department in October last year issued a tender for the outsourcing of radiation services for cancer patients, but, said Bloom, there was no movement in the direction of provision.
The department also provided no explanation on what had happened to the tender.
Meanwhile, the delays put at risk the lives of hundreds of cancer patients who needed treatment as soon as possible, including those with breast, colon and prostate cancer.