South Africa gears up to tackle cancer, non-communicable diseases

South Africa gears up to tackle cancer, non-communicable diseasesHypertension.

For years, HIV and tuberculosis have dominated South Africa’s health care programmes but the country is looking to pay more attention to cancer and other non-communicable diseases (NDCs) with the introduction of a new national plan.

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This is according to Sandhya Singh, the Department of Health’s director of disease, disability and geriatrics. Singh presented government’s plans for its long-awaited National Cancer Prevention and Control Programme (NCPCP) at the AORTIC Cancer Conference, which concluded Sunday in Durban.

“The NDP lays the platform for concerns around issues of poverty and inequality within South African communities,” Singh told Health-e.

Singh emphasised that the NCPCP, which was expected to be released earlier this year, will be aligned with the National Development Plan 2030’s target for universal access to health.

Turning point

Minister of Health Dr. Aaron Motsoaledi began taking note of  looming cancer and NCD threats when a 2009 study in the medical journal The Lancet placed NCDs second on the list of South Africa’s “quadruple burden of disease,” which also includes HIV, tuberculosis and high maternal and infant mortality.

“After the report came out, the minister made sure that NCDs were included in every single speech he made,” Singh said.

Recent studies suggest that HIV and NCDs each might be responsible for about 35 percent of all annual deaths in South Africa. The rise of NCDs in South Africa has been fuelled by tobacco and alcohol use, physical inactivity, unhealthy diets and obesity.

Reviving cancer registery

One of the country’s first steps towards cancer control came with the development of a National Cancer Registry. According to a 2011 regulation, each new cancer diagnosis must be reported to a central registry in order to track cancer prevalence and trends.

“Cancer intelligence is central to planning,” Singh added.

According to the registery, cervical, breast, oesophagus, colorectal, stomach and certain types of skin cancers are the deadliest cancers among women. In men, the most cancer deaths occur from lung, oesophagus, prostate, stomach, colorectal and skin cancer (melanoma).

Created in 2013, the department’s Ministerial Advisory Committee on Cancer has recommended that the country strengthen this national registery and develop a cancer research agenda.

Some of the other steps the department of health is taking towards cancer control include:

  • Rolling out the Human Papillomavirus vaccine to prevent cervical cancer. Starting in February 2014, 420,000 nine-year-old girls in grade 4 will be immunised;
  • Proposing regulations to prevent cancer and other NCDs, including proposed regulations to restrict in-store tobacco displays, limit the use of tanning beds to adults and mandating salt reductions in selected food;
  • A political commitment to integrate palliative care to manage cancer patients’ pain into primary health care.