Late detection of child cancers is becoming a major threat to the health sector as 20 new cases are reported annually resulting in child mortality.
KidzCan Zimbabwe is working with the Ministry of Health on a campaign that will promote early diagnosis of Retinoblastoma (cancer of the eye) and Wilms Tumor (cancer of the kidney) which has put Zimbabwe on the map for the wrong reasons.
The executive director of Kidzcan, Daniel McKenzie said the two cancers have caused unnecessary death among children in Zimbabwe these past months hence creating a need to sensitize the nation.
“The campaign started with the training of community health workers who will mobilize communities to take their children for screening as well as training of medical staff who will do the screening when children come to the baby clinic,” said McKenzie.
An eye surgeon at the Kaguvi Eye Unit, Parirenyatwa Hospital, Dr Pamidzai Madzima confirmed that the late detection of the eye cancer has become the leading cause for death of children under the age of 5.
“Retinoblastoma is an eye cancer in children that can kill if not detected early. Take a flash photo of your child, the cancer may show as a white spot or reflection,” Dr Madzima said.
The eye specialist went on to encourage parents to take their children for eye check ups so that they can access treatment early if the cancer is detected earlier as well.
“Most of the cases we receive would have gone to advanced stages hence we will be forced to remove the eye to save the child’s life. The cancer can be treated if diagnosed early but so far, all the cases we have received have proved to have been diagnosed to late,” said Madzima.
The current childhood cancer situation in Zimbabwe is characterised by many challenges, among them late diagnosis and delayed referrals, particularly at peripheral health facility level. There is centralization of childhood cancer service hence services are not easily and readily accessible.
A pediatric surgeon, Dr Tungamirai Gwatirisa encouraged parents to look out for early signs of Wilms Tumor and alert any nearest health care center if a child has any of the symptoms.
“Symptoms can be enlarged head, lumps, swelling, pale face, changes in eye vision, unexplained bruising or bleeding, difficulty balancing, headaches, aching bones or even personality change. Don’t wait until its too late, early diagnosis of cancer can save a child’s life,” Dr Gwatirisa said.
Funded by UNICEF, Delta and KidzCan, the campaign seeks to raise awareness and knowledge among health practitioners on how to detect childhood cancer in the early stages and refer the affected children to appropriate health centres for diagnosis and treatment.
This campaign heralds a new era in Zimbabwe where unnecessary deaths of children from these childhood cancers under the theme “Leave No Child Behind” will be minimised.
It is also hoped that the initial project in Chitungwiza and Harare will bring out some lessons which will be used as the program is rolled out to other remaining provinces in Zimbabwe.
The publicity campaign which was launched yesterday will run for the next three months and is expected to end in June.