MEC Dhlomo addressed members of the Childhood Cancer Foundation in Westville

1 March 2017

It is indeed an honour for me to be part of an effort that aims at tackling one of the most dilapidating maladies that silently afflicts the most vulnerable in our society - cancer in children. I am particularly touched because what we are dealing with this afternoon forms part of the brief and responsibility that the Minister of Health, Hon Dr Aaron Motsoaledi has entrusted me with. As some form of background, allow me to state that the Minister of Health Dr Aaron Motsoaledi appointed the Steering Committee on Palliative Care (SCPC) to guide the Department of Health to implement, monitor and evaluate progress towards achieving World Health Assembly Resolution 67.19. In furtherance thereof, the Minister of Health appointed the KZN MEC for Health, Dr Sibongiseni Dhlomo, as Chair of the SCPC. On our first meeting on 27 June 2016, whilst requesting everyone to work hard to see a complete Palliative Care Strategy in South Africa and begin to see it implemented before the Minister of Health leaves his term of office in 2018, this is what I said: We are called upon to bring about revolution in the health service delivery through palliative care.'

I may as well report that the National Department of Health has drafted a national policy on palliative care, (National Policy Framework and Strategy on Palliative Care 2017 - 2020) (NPFSPC). The Steering Committee has commented on this draft national policy and the latest draft was presented to the TECH NHC on Friday 24 February 2017 and the policy was recommended for approval by NHC.

MEC Dhlomo and the Foundation CEO – Carl Queiros
MEC Dhlomo and the Foundation CEO - Carl Queiros

The Steering Committee formed seven Task Teams to carry forward their activities in line with a draft implementation plan including Task Teams on: Ethics, Vulnerable Groups, Education & Training, Policy, Drug Availability, Support to Families/HCW and Funding.

The Drug Availability Task Team has also submitted a Position Paper on Access to Palliative Care Medicines to the National Essential Medicines Committee and this will be presented at their meeting on 6 April 2017, the work reviewing the Essential Medicines Lists for inclusion of palliative care medicines is ongoing. As indicated, the subject matter we are dealing with today is very close to my heart.

For the sake of emphasis, let us remind each other what the definition of Palliative Care is, according to the World Health Organisation (WHO): An approach that improves the quality of life of patients and their families facing problems associated with life-threatening illness, through the prevention and relief of suffering, the early identification and impeccable assessment and treatment of pain and other problems; physical; psychosocial and spiritual.'

Recognizing that treatment of cancer is a long term exercise, indeed this definition also encompasses aspects aimed at enhancing the quality of life especially during the course of illness and does take into consideration therapies that are implemented to prolong life or cure the illness.

Outside this gathering, what most of our citizens do not appreciate yet, is that Cancer is a leading cause of death worldwide; more than AIDS,tuberculosis and malaria combined. That is scary!

Information at our disposal gleaned from the Union for International Cancer Control, (UICC), tells us that in the recent past, globally, Cancer accounted for 8.2 million deaths out of which 4 million were people between the ages 39 and 60 years.

As a country, South Africa is not immune from this malady as estimated cancer incidence prevalence data by the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) reveals that 5 years ago South Africa had 77 400 new cancer cases.

Today in this country, we are wiser because we have the South African Children’s Cancer Study Group (SACCSG) which in 1987 started the collection of data on childhood cancers covering the whole country.

We are also privy to the information gathered by the South African Children’s Tumour Registry which tells us that in this country where children under 15 years represent 31% of the population, more than 3 600 new cases of childhood malignancies are reported yearly. From the onset, let us agree that even for an adult Dealing with Cancer Diagnosis is not an easy feat. How much more in dealing with Children Diagnosed with Cancer?

When a child is diagnosed with cancer, it is not only about him or her but it becomes a blow to the parents; siblings and all the relatives of the family concerned.Normal daily life for all family members, regardless of their ages automatically changes. Cancer diagnosis creates a crisis in the life of each family member. One of the parents might need to quit work and dedicate time to the well-being of the child; other siblings may feel neglected as the ill child becomes the major focus of family time and attention. In essence, all members of the family will face and need to cope with many problems, which unfortunately they are not trained or equipped to deal with.

Recognising that in South Africa currently, palliative care is provided mainly by the NGO sector; the Government is working towards re-affirming its responsibility aimed at delivering a continuum of integrated care for any life threatening disease including non-communicable diseases, HIV and AIDS as well as TB. As Government we have also initiated programmes that aim at curtailing the onset and spread of cancer amongst our people according to age and gender. Some being:

  • School - Based Vaccination Programme against the Human Papillomavirus (HPV). Here we vaccinate girls nine years and older; doing Grade 4; in public (Government) schools against HPV which causes cervical cancer.
  • Early Detection Programmes that assist significantly in the reduction of cancer burden; programmes such as:
    • Breast self-examination; Pap smear under the PHILA MA campaign to deal with cancer of the cervix and Prostate screening

In all our facilities whether they are clinics or hospitals; we also have personnel that can diagnosis cancer suspect cases which are then referred to Regional Hospitals where these are confirmed. Confirmed cancer cases are then referred to our specified Institutions for treatment and these are:

As the KwaZulu Natal Department of Health, we thus fully support the Vuka Khuluma programme. We also commit to be part of its initiative to disseminate positive and informative messaging about cancer; partaking in community outreach programmes and continuously extolling our citizens to embrace healthy lifestyle.

We also pledge our support to all our citizens living with Cancer in their quest to improve their quality of life. Here they have us as their partners. They are never alone!!!!

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