Public Health & Health Systems

‘Slip, Slop, Slap’ – lessons from Australia

Despite similar incidence of skin cancer in Australia and South Africa, the authorities “down under” have acted far more decisively to ensure that the public understands the dangers of over-exposure to the sun’s harmful rays. South Africa needs to get beyond the misperception that skin cancer is something that affects only a pale minority. by Tim Dodd

Rates of skin cancer South Africa and Australia are the highest in the world, affecting 197 South Africans per 100 000 and 213 per 100 000 Australians annually. Despite the fact that both countries have a huge problem, Australia can teach South Africa a thing or two about skin cancer protection.

Because of the skin cancer epidemic in their country, the Australian government has developed a media campaign with the message “slip, slop slap” which encourages people to “slip on a long sleeve shirt, slop on some SPF 15+ sunscreen and slap on a broad-rimmed hat.”

In addition to the catchy slogan, Australia’s efforts include additional outreach such as warnings to stay out of the sun and off the beach between 10am and 2pm when the sun is the strongest and a mandated “no-hat, no-play” policy at schools.

At the same time many public parks and community centres have installed shade cloth over play areas and pools to reduce sun exposure by 60 percent. The government has also eliminated all taxes on sunscreen, confirming their commitment to both the reduction and the prevention of skin cancer in Australia.

Organisations from the private sector such as The Cancer Council Australia provide cheap products such as Lycra clothing and cosmetics with sun protection. In addition, according to the council’s website, “All royalties received from the sale of The Cancer Council Australia sun protection products are distributed to state and territory cancer councils to fund research, patient support services and education,” which also shows the private sector’s commitment to reducing skin cancer.

So with all these innovative programs used to combat skin cancer in Australia, is it possible that they could work in South Africa? There is a two-part answer to the question: Will the government of South Africa be willing to establish an initiative to combat skin cancer and will it be supported through the private sector?

According to Ayesha Sasman, information specialist with the Cancer Association of South Africa (CANSA) the answer is no. “In terms of populations, skin cancer is seen primarily as a white disease, although it affects people with all types of skin.”

Unfortunately, because the government and the population of South Africa are primarily made up of people with dark skin, it is difficult for them to see skin cancer as that much of a threat. This is despite the fact that the incidence of melanoma among men and women are among the highest in the world. The figures show that 21,5 men per 100 000 and 17,5 women per 100 000 suffer from melanoma.

In the light of this, Cansa is putting pressure on the government to take the initiative, such as making it compulsory for school children to wear hats when they are playing outside.

While the private sector and groups such as Cansa have been pushing for increased awareness, it is difficult because of the lack of education about the dangers of skin cancer and the lack of initiative on the part of the government.

“Cansa introduced UV-protected goods such as clothing 4 or 5 years ago, yet they have not yet caught on in the market due to the fact that the demand is so low,” says Sasman.

Sasman believes that if people are to know about skin cancer and treat it as a serious issue, they need to learn about it from an early age.

“When we were growing up, little was known about skin cancer and it was not something that we were commonly warned about in school. For people to really realise that it is a significant problem we must begin educating our children about it at an early age so that in 20 years time we will have an adult population that realises something must be done.”
– Health-e News Service

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