Malawi's cancer prevalence rate stands at about 19,000 new cases every year being diagnosed out of which about 13,000 are prevalent every year with 2,500 deaths registered, according University of North Carolina (UNC) Project data.
Co-Director of UNC Malawi Cancer Programme Dr. Tamiwe Tomoka says these figures could be an underestimation as there are areas which make diagnosis clinically, but don’t feed into the registry.
Since 2010, there were no deliberate efforts in Cancer control and care strategies until a strategy was put in place in 2019-2029 which meant there was no baseline information in regards to the disease.
Nonetheless in terms of cancer research in the country, huge strides have been made involving among others the Ministry of Health, Baylor College of Medicine and UNC informing on treatment and strategies on surveillance, care and diagnosis.
Chemotherapy is a long-term treatment and in between doses, patients have 21 days and have to go home and back and due to economic challenges, they find it hard to get money for their transportation which sees some defaulting treatment.
Dr. Tomoka thinks a strategy where patients are given transport to and from hospital as was the case sometime back where students within public secondary schools would have concession tickets and would pay half a fee to board a bus is ideal.
“And also patients then would even have warrants; they were being issued by government so they’d come to hospital, they’d get back on warrants; so it means they will not pay. At the moment within a research setting, patients usually do get a reimbursement for transport but that’s just within a research setting. But for the broader care of our patients with cancer, I think one of the areas that we need to look at is to return patients into care by providing access to transport to come for their treatment”.
Speaking at the 4th Malawi Cancer symposium, World Health Organization (WHO) described the disease as the second leading cause of deaths and like other countries, Malawi has challenges in ensuring access to care and treatment.
WHO resident representative Dr. Neema Kimambo noted that while Malawi is working on screening programmes for cervical cancer, more needs to be done in the provision of HPV vaccine and ensuring people’s access to early screening and detection to boost chances of survival.
She indicated that in many low and mid income countries, seek late treatment noting this limits outcomes.
“So what we really need is governments have to invest more in terms of infrastructure, have to invest in terms of human resource, awareness and advocacy so people are aware, people know signs and symptoms so they can take action. We have to invest in ensuring access to treatment in terms of the relevant equipment, radiotherapy, chemotherapy to ensure consistency in the drugs supply.
“Because if one begins treatment, the next time they come for treatment it’s out of stock. Again then you’ll get poor outcomes so in order to address cancer, I think every level has something to do,” she said.
Deputy Minister of Health Enoch Pay urged people to make use of available services and ensure they do early screening and continue adhering to treatment guidelines
He underscored the need to do research and diagnosis at health centres which feeds into policies and action and ultimately improve access to care and outcomes of care of the patients.
Among the adult population, the top five common cancers in are Kaposi’s sarcoma at 34 percent, Cervical cancer at 25 percent, Esophageal cancer at 12 percent, Non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma 6 percent and Urinary bladder at 3 percent.