While cancer is reported to be on the increase in Tanzania, only 10 per cent of patients access medical treatment owing to limited number of institutes and specialists for the disease.
On average only one person out of ten can access medical services for cancer treatment, which implies that 90 percent of patients do not access medical services in the country.
In 2002 World Health Organisation (WHO) estimated that 21,000 new cancer cases occur each year in Tanzania.
According to current statistics from the Ocean Road Cancer Institute (ORCI) only 4,000 cancer patients report to the institute for treatment per year which is equal to 10 per cent of all cancer patients.
Meanwhile, most patients reporting to the institute are at critical stage and only 21 per cent of those who get treatment can survive for five years, while the rest die within five years.
Dr Crispin Kahesa, a specialist for cancer screening at the institute, told The Guardian in Sunday this week that only a few patients benefit from the ORCI owing to inefficient number of specialists.
“We are few cancer specialists and ORCI is the only institute in the country that deals with cancer, which makes some patients fail to go for treatment.
“For in order to be treated here a patient should have a certificate granting permission and such a certificate takes long process to acquire,” said Dr Kahesa.
Most cancer victims are women, he said, citing cervix cancer that afflicts 40 per cent of all cancer patients reporting at ORCI annually.
This is followed karposis sarcone (skin cancer) 24 per cent, breast cancer take share of 16 per cent, esophagus cancer, eight per cent, head and neck cancer, four per cent and others collectively, eight per cent.
“Some people use cosmetics with harmful chemicals that affect their melanin skin especially women who like to look ‘beautiful’ without considering accompanied effects on their health.
“They don’t like using original products like avocado since it takes long for them to realise the desired effects of looking beautiful,” said Kahesa.
It is difficult to recognise cancer at early stage and as a result most patients report to hospital in critical stage because most Tanzanians do not have a culture of regular medical checkups before they get sick.
Kahesa, however, noted that there is an increase in cancer awareness, though in new lifestyle most people prefer manufactured food, drinks and cosmetics to original ones that are free of hazardous chemicals associated with cancer.
Smoking and use of alcohol are among the causes of cancer. Other causes are obesity and HIV.
He said, however, that there is no direct way of protection from cancer although balanced diets, physical exercises and eating at the rate prescribed can help people against the risk of getting cancer.
Lack of medical devices at public hospitals make the poor suffer because they fail to pay for the service at private hospitals since it is expensive, he explained.
“We don’t have enough medical devices like Computerised Tomography Scan (CT Scan). It is available at the Aghakhan Hospital. It is too expensive for poor people to pay Sh250,000 for access the service.
“Magnetic Resonate Image (MRI) is available at the Muhimbili National Hospital only while there is no simutalor in the country, all of which make it difficult to offer the service,” said Kahesa.
He appealed to the government to give more support by introducing cancer policy, increasing the number of medical devices and medicines to help the poor who can not afford the cost of going abroad for treatment.
He explained: “Sometimes we stay for four months without medicines… at other times we get them in abundance, making them expire before they are used and so we dump them. I hope the government would have a better plan to supply us with medicines.”
According to WHO figures, every year cancer affects at least nine million people worldwide and kills five million.
The economic as well as health consequences make cancer a substantial health problem. In developed countries almost twice as much the money is spent to treat and control cancer.
The number of cancer patients treated at ORCI has been rising from year to year. In 1975 there were 48 new patients while in 20004 the number had risen to 2,866 and at present the institute receives 4,000 new patients per year.