70 pc of Tanzanian children die of eye cancer every year-expert

16May 2019
Francis Kajubi
The Guardian
70 pc of Tanzanian children die of eye cancer every year-expert

SEVENTY per cent of Tanzanian children die of retinoblastoma every year due to delay in treatment caused by a lack of awareness of the disease symptoms by many parents especially in rural areas, expert has said.

Retinoblastoma (Rb) is a rare form of cancer that rapidly develops from the immature cells of a retina, the light-detecting tissue of the eye. It is the most common primary malignant intraocular cancer in children, and it is almost exclusively found in young children.

Ophthalmologist and lecturer at Muhimbili University Health and Allied Sciences (MUHAS), Dr Anna Sanyiwa said  yesterday in Dar es Salaam, when speaking at the official launch of the World Retinoblastoma Week

Dr Sanyiwa said retinoblastoma can cause removal of the eye and in extreme cases death, due to delayed presentation.

“It is a life and vision threatening disease,” she said. She said that retinoblastoma affects approximately 8,000 children in the world each year. The incidence of the disease is one child is affected in 15,000 to 18,000 live births.

“This incidence rate is higher in developing countries of Africa and India. From that Tanzania gets 100 to 130 cases per year. The number might seem small but it is a second leading cause of admission in the paeditric oncology ward at Muhimbili National Hospital and most of the patients come from Lake Zone,” Dr Sanyiwa said.

According to her, when the disease is detected early, it is curable. Life, eye, and vision can be salvaged with appropriate treatment. In developed countries like UK or USA for example beyond 96 per cent of children are cured with early diagnosis and treatment being key to serving their life and sight.


“However, in developing countries including Tanzania, 50 to 70 per cent of children affected with this eye cancer die because most are diagnosed too late to save their lives, most of the children vulnerable to metastatic retinoblastoma” said the Muhimbili ophthalmologist.

For his part, the Rotary Club of Dar es Salaam project manager, Kirubakaran Ramakrishnan said that the disease is horrible and in a bid to fight it, his club offered equipment worth 170m/- for diagnosis.

“The equipment we are donating are meant to serve for Muhimbili Rotary pediatric oncology ward here at Muhimbili hospital and its division Mloganzila teaching hospital. We hope that this is a crucial starting point in a fight against the disease in Tanzania communities,” said Ramakrishnan.

Worldwide, every May, the week after the second Sunday is celebrated as World Retinoblastoma Awareness Week, dedicated to increase awareness about the disease. The aim is to raise awareness and promote early detection by spreading the word to parents, grandparents, pediatricians, and others concerned about children's eye health.

Earlier, Dr Sanyiwa explained that the most common sign of RB is a white glow instead of a normal black pupil or red reflex in the eye, a white pupil or white reflection in a photo where a flash has been used or when the child is in artificial light or a darkish room.


It is caused by a defect in retinoblastoma gene, a suppressor gene found on cells of the retina responsible for control of cell division. If the gene is not active, cells can divide out of control to cause cancer.

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