Poverty is a big damper for timely treatment of cancer

Catherine Mwauyakufa, CNS Correspondent, Zimbabwe
Wadzanayi Michele Mayiseni - A cancer survivor   
Cancer treatment and care remains a challenge in Zimbabwe with most cases getting diagnosed in the late stages. Currently, over 5000 new cancer cases are diagnosed in the country annually. This is just the tip of the iceberg as many cases are not captured and registered. The majority seek medical help when in an advanced stage of the disease. The large number of people living with HIV (1.3 million) results in an even higher number of people who develop cancer.


Cancer screening is not widely available in most health centres, and even those offering the service charge a minimum of $25 in the local bond notes. These high diagnostic costs deter most people from going for cancer diagnosis at all.

Zimbabwe’s Minister of Health and Child Care, Dr Obadiah Moyo, said that current availability of cancer treatment in Zimbabwe is much short of the demand. As of now, cancer treatment is offered at only two government hospitals—Parirenyatwa Hospital in the capital city Harare and Mpilo Hospital in Bulawayo. The rest is catered by private hospitals which are way beyond the reach of most people. So a positive cancer diagnosis is viewed as a death sentence by many.

Dr Moyo noted that lifestyles, alcohol, smoking, pollution are the main causes of the cancers. He said prostate cancer in men, and cervical and breast cancer in women were the most prevalent. But lack of access to diagnosis and treatment remains the biggest challenge.

For women aged 40 and above, cancer screening is recommended at least once in 3 years. Women living with HIV are recommended to have cancer screening annually. Sadly, this is not the case, with most getting diagnosed very late in stage 3 or 4 of the cancer.

Survivor speak

The cancer survival rate is low in Zimbabwe due to late detection and treatment. Most women, especially those from poor backgrounds, have never had any cancer screening. Among the few who have gone for screening, a large majority do not proceed beyond this step and do not take treatment even after tests confirm abnormality. This dismal state of affairs has motivated an 18 years old cancer survivor, Wadzanayi Michele Mayiseni, to start a cancer awareness campaign.

Mayiseni shared that, “I know of many women, showing signs of cervical cancer, who have had smear pap tests done and have come out positive for lesions. But for a complete and confirmed diagnosis, they need to get a biopsy wherein doctors remove a tissue sample from the affected area and get it tested in the laboratory for more reliable results. The problem is that these women cannot afford the fee required for a biopsy, which costs $30 bond notes. Most of them are either single, or widowed, or unemployed and stay in remote areas like Bindura in Mashonaland Central Province. Let alone the cost of a biopsy, some do not even have the money for the bus fare to come to Harare for the biopsies or review. So they end up staying at home and die eventually.”

“What pains me most is that they all have minor children, 0-12 years, who are not in position to take care of themselves in case their mothers are no more. As an 18 year old, I am still very dependent on my mother. I wish no child should ever have to suffer losing a mother to cancer, especially when it can be diagnosed early and treated. A whole family is destroyed if the mother dies,” added Mayiseni.

Mayiseni has come up with an initiative to help raise funds for these mothers' biopsies in order to get proper diagnosis, followed by treatment, if needed. For those that are confirmed to have cancer, she works in partnering with organizations that deal with adulthood cancer alleviation in Zimbabwe. Most of these organizations only take in patients who have already got their diagnosis through biopsy confirmation. Hence the need for this initiative. She also appeals for assistance to help these women get screened and treated through her Facebook page.

In January 2019, Mayiseni crowd-funded for Parirenyatwa Group of Hospitals children's oncology ward. Parirenyatwa Hospital is one of the two government referral centres for cancer in Zimbabwe. The ward was in great need of diapers. She managed to get over 4 000 diapers, books, crayons and colours with some snacks as well, bringing a smile on many innocent faces. It was in this ward only that her life was saved when she was 11 years old.

“Looking back to the time when I was in this hospital, I received help from so many people, most of whom I did not even know. I managed to get my biopsy done on time and had my left leg amputated above the knee to save my life. I am here today, alive, because of the good hearts people have and I would love it if one day, one of these mothers or their children stand to speak of their survival that was facilitated by some good Samaritan”.

Catherine Mwauyakufa, Citizen News Service - CNS
February 13, 2019