The National Cancer Campaign was officially launched on 30th October 2018 in Pietermaritzburg, KwaZulu-Natal (KZN) by the Minister of Health, Dr Aaron Motsoaledi, and the KZN MEC for Health, Dr Sibongiseni Dhlomo. The launch coincided with a cancer screening campaign and an education drive to inform attendees about their cancer risk.

The National Cancer Campaign forms part of President Cyril Ramaphosa’s strategy of launching national non-communicable disease (NCD)-specific campaigns to accelerate access to health services to effectively manage the rising tide or the ‘tsunami’ of NCDs, which includes cancer.

According to President Ramaphosa, government aims to replicate the success of their national HIV Counselling and Testing (HCT) campaign. With support from the private sector, the ultimate goal is to educate and raise awareness about the different NCDs – specifically how they are caused and how they can be prevented, and to encourage early diagnosis to improve treatment outcomes.

According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), cancer is the second leading cause of death globally, and is responsible for an estimated 9.6 million deaths in 2018. The most common female cancers are breast, colorectal, lung and cervical cancer; while for men it’s lung, prostate, colorectal and liver cancer. According to the American Cancer Society, about 40% cancers are avoidable through either lifestyle changes or prevention and treatment of viral infections.

The National Cancer Campaign

During his speech, Minister Motsoaledi outlined the five objectives of the National Cancer Campaign, which are:

  • To create awareness about cancer and other related communicable diseases
  • To improve early cancer detection through increased access to screening services for breast and cervical cancer
  • To improve linkages to treatment and care by improving the skills of healthcare workers
  • To increase support to patients already diagnosed with cancer through collaboration with stakeholders and civil society organisations
  • To strengthen health systems by establishing regional centres for oncology services

According to Minister Motsoaledi, some objectives outlined above have already been put in motion. For example, the launch of the national HPV campaign in 2014 which set out to immunise girls in grade 4 against the human papilloma virus, which causes cervical cancer. “Between 2014 and 2017 we immunised more than 1.5 million girls. Since 2014, each year we have been able to budget R200 million for this programme,” said Minister Motsoaledi.

“In 2013, I established a Ministerial Advisory Committee on Cancer and in 2016 I established a Steering Committee on Palliative Care. These committees were established to advise me on what we need to do to address the challenges posed by the growing number of cancers,” continued Minister Motsoaledi.

In 2017 the National Health Council approved four policies: an overall cancer policy and framework; breast and cervical cancer policies and guidelines and a palliative care policy. “These policies have been developed by our local experts and reviewed by the Ministerial Committee on Cancer in which survivors, clinicians and civil societies are represented,” said Minister Motsoaledi.

The Health Minister went on to explain how since 2011 all clinicians are required by law to submit new cancer cases to the National Cancer Registry to help government better plan and deliver services to cancer patients.

Minister Motsoaledi also noted that his department has issued a national tender to procure radiation oncology services from the private sector. He intends to award the tender to the successful bidders by the end of November, with the aim of having the technology up and running in January 2019.

There are also programmes underway across the country to improve access to cancer treatment. For example, in Gauteng Dr George Mukhari Hospital will decentralise some surgical services to Odi Community Hospital, and in the Western Cape decentralised oncology services are planned for Worcester and Somerset Hospitals.

The South African Medical Council has also partnered with the Beijing Genomics Institute to establish a genomic research facility to better diagnose and treat cancers. “This will help our clinicians to practice precision medicine – clinical interventions that are suited to specific individuals given their unique characteristics,” said Minister Motsoaledi.

Minister Motsoaledi concluded by saying that government launched the National Cancer Campaign because they are serious about improving the country’s prevention, treatment and palliation services.

“We would like to encourage sectors of society to partner with us in whatever way possible. Individuals, families and communities can help with increasing awareness of the lifestyle issues that can reduce cancers,” concluded Minister Motsoaledi.

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