World Cancer Day 2016: Are we beginning to forget?

Alice Tembe, CNS Correspondent, Swaziland
World Cancer Day will take place on February 4th 2016 and the commemoration is aimed at raising awareness and promoting reflection about what we can do collectively and individually to "reduce the global burden of cancer”. This comes at a time when many other loud world concerns have begun to take centre stage— the barbaric gun control debate, eyeing the teenage population as potential criminals and terrorists, and the daring climate changes leading strongly to economic downfall and rising costs of living.

But all that does not stop the silent life threatening diseases like lung cancer. It becomes all the more apparent and relevant to focus attention on this, as the plethora of modern woes is turning our populations more and more to the so called ‘stress managing habits’ of smoking and the captivating allure of flavored tobacco and water pipe smoking. As noted by Dr Tara Singh Bam, Regional Advisor on Tobacco Control at the International Union Against Tuberculosis and Lung Disease (The Union) during a webinar presentation in the lead up to World Cancer Day 2016, these trendy smoking habits have not only affected the smoking individuals but their loved ones and the society at large. The effects of tobacco caused lung cancer include, but are not limited to:
  • Premature death
  • Ill health
  • Health care costs
  • Cost of second hand smoking effects on family health
  • Cost of purchasing cigarettes
A young woman, Faith Dlamini (name changed) shared similar sentiments with me at the main hospital in the capital Mbabane in Swaziland, where she had come with her six year old daughter who was being treated for a persistent cough. She noted with sadness, “I cannot keep affording these repeated hospital visits caused by someone who cannot just keep their smoking to themselves”. She said this referring to the father of her child with whom she lives. The nurse attending to the child confirmed that tests results have shown that the child does not have TB but is consistently exposed to tobacco smoke. The nurse also confirmed that she has treated the child multiple times and recommended that the father smoke outside the house for the sake of the child.

It is not difficult to predict that in the near future, Faith Dlamini and her daughter’s lives could be under serious threat due to repeated exposure to second hand smoke. Already indications are that many governments are increasingly riddled with overburdened resource crunch and healthcare systems. It is therefore essential for governments to take a stand, and act to protect the defenseless population. Notably, they can begin by declaring public zones as strictly no-smoking areas, bold health warnings on all tobacco products and, more importantly, hiking tobacco taxes, to deter individual habitual smoking behaviours and tobacco trading in general. As we gear up for World Cancer Day this year, let us remember that lung cancer is still the most common cause of cancer deaths and that tobacco use is the most important risk factor for cancer, causing 70% of global lung cancer deaths. It would be suicidal to forget this because there cannot be a  louder bang than this, before many more lives are stolen from us by this disease.

Alice Tembe, Citizen News Service - CNS
February 2, 2016