Zanzibar holds cancer care, treatment summit

07Dec 2021
Angel Navuri
The Guardian
Zanzibar holds cancer care, treatment summit

BREAST cancer, the most prevalent type of cancer in Tanzania, was the focus of attention at the Beacon International Cancer Summit held in Zanzibar over the weekend.

Cancer specialists are optimistic as to progress in the fight against breast cancer as researchers rush against time to aid in the formulation of advanced therapy for its treatment.

The two-day summit was organised by Beacon Medicare Ltd and Abner Pharmaceutics Ltd under the theme ‘Cancer Care in the Era of Advanced Therapeutics.’

Beacon Medicare Ltd assistant manager MD Nabil said that the summit aimed to unite cancer professionals to improve the quality of life of cancer patients by exchanging latest information and innovative ideas in cancer treatment.

Over 100 oncology professionals medical oncologist from different African country , said the whole theme was to revisit treatments being used for cancer from eight African countries came together, creating an open platform to discuss the best practices in cancer treatment, sharing knowledge and experience of using advanced techniques in cancer management. They also examined capacity building in cancer care through networking and collaboration, building awareness on early detection of cancer.

Cancer is the second leading cause of deaths after heart disease globally, with nearly 10m cancer patients dying in 2020 and nearly 20m new cases detected that same year, he stated.

On her part, Dr Sitna Mwanzi, Medical Oncologist Aga Khan University,  said advancing to new therapies as oncology fees advance at a rapid rate.

“We have new targeted therapies that are improving outcomes for patients with cancer whether the cancer is in early or advanced stage. I think it is a good moment for us to say that for all patients, there are therapies that can improve the length and quality of life," she said.

Advancements that the region has made include improvements on how cancer is diagnosed, capabilities of advance testing, improved radiological techniques and more medical training pursuits in Kenya, Tanzania and Uganda.

“In the past we had few specialists in cancer care and now the medical training number has gone high in East Africa,” she stated

Dr Sitna cited an example that recently Tanzania joined the club of six other countries in Africa offering advanced services in that field, with others being South Africa, Morocco, Tunisia, Egypt, Tunisia and Nigeria. About 200 patients in Tanzania need bone marrow transplants in one year.

“Tanzania performed the first born marrow transplant, the first in the region, bringing hope to patients battling with cancer cells,” she asserted

Responding to cost implication as cancer treatment is costly and not everyone can afford it, she said “l think a lot of the new treatments, targeted therapies or immunotherapies. They initially will be expensive because the companies that produce them use a lot of money to generate them but the more and more we use this drugs the cost comes down.”

When companies produce a generic medication or biosimilars it inherently tends to reduce the cost by rules of economies of scale. The greater the number of patients using it the lower the cost becomes so eventually the cost of treatment will come down.

She said that there are challenges but the situation has improved with the National Health Insurance Fund (NHIF) coming in to fund a lot of cancer care in East Africa. Insurance companies are helping to cover the cost, so it will not cover everything, but definitely it will reduce the cost

The journey of improvement of advance in the treatment of cancer globally has been transformed from simplest to complex as the world fights the burden of cancer.

Asim Jamal Shalk, an associate professor of medicine at the Aga Khan University, Nairobi said that breast cancer has the highest burden. ”We have reached a point where we used to give chemotherapy to all breast cancer patients, without an amplifying test to determine which patient would actually benefit from chemotherapy.

In Tanzania, breast cancer is ranked second in mortality in 2020 after cervical cancer followed by esophagus cancer. In Tanzania one in every 50 cases of such cancer strikes a man.

Experts’ concern on the increase in the number of cases relate to the triple negative breast cancer numbers, the type of breast cancer not exhibiting the three cancer cell proteins.

In the early 1990s the treatment of cancers seemed impossible with the only possibility being the removal of an affected part of the body by cutting it off in the most primitive manner. It wasn’t until the late years of the past century and early this century that experts in the field developed various treatment of cancer like radiotherapy and chemotherapy.

There have been changes and advancements over the past 20 years in medical science and so has the treatment of cancer changed globally. As world warming continues it is up to medical science to continue showing that there is no ‘one size fits all’ in the management of tubers in cancer care. Experts are always trying to find ways to battle the ever changing face of cancer, the specialist added.