Pre-empting cancer surge beyond Covid-19
DR ANNA MARY NYAKABAU
DR MELINDA MUSHONGA
PROF NORMAN NYAZEMA
IT IS UNFORTUNATE that the legitimate fear of Covid-19 has overshadowed all the other existing and potential causes of death.
Just to give a few examples of common causes of disease-caused mortality particularly in resource constrained environments are HIV/Aids, TB, malaria and cancer. Underlying malnutrition compounds both infection-caused and non-communicable diseases.
Speaking of malnutrition, it underlines the importance of food and nutrition security in terms of loss of gross domestic product which is now worse in this Covid-19 situation.
Food security being sufficient food to provide the required energy and nutrition security is about nutritional quality of the food eaten and health care provided, since food is medicine. Inadequate nutrition for adolescent girls, for example affects their birth outcomes and their long-term health and ultimately the health of the nation. Increasing poor nutrition among aging population increasing the risk of non-communicable diseases, such as cancer and indeed Covid-19 infection.
Currently all focus is on development of a vaccine or a cure for this infectious pandemic that has gripped the world since about four months ago.
Various reports are awash with deaths due to Covid-19. Unfortunately, the context of deaths due to other causes is glaringly missing. One dreads to imagine the reality of deaths from non-communicable diseases like cancer, cardiovascular disease, diabetes, hypertension and other common infectious conditions particularly in low income countries such as Zimbabwe.
Many with these co-morbidities which are reported to increase the risk of complicated Covid-19 and increase Covid-19 mortality have gone into self-isolation. Unfortunately, a number may have potentially succumbed to their primary conditions in the past 4 months especially in resource-limited countries like Zimbabwe.
These may remain unreported. The adverse economic consequences of lock down among them; failure to access healthcare for primary conditions, inadequate/inappropriate food supplies in a background of drought-stricken environment and a myriad of economic challenges have not spared this vulnerable group of patients.
Comprehensive cancer activities were being escalated before Covid-19. These have been inadvertently put on hold or are scaled down due to a different global focus aimed at primarily addressing the Covid-19 pandemic. Despite this, carcinogenesis processes are ongoing and continue unabated. Cancer which is an impending, “Tsunami” in Zimbabwe has yet another opportunity to ravage communities unchecked. This is possibly a familiar occurrence in other low income countries.
The post-Covid-19 era is likely to be characterized by un upsurge of advanced, complicated non-communicable diseases particularly if no action is taken now. The world should continue to acknowledge the double-burden of disease and rationalize resources to cater for the non-communicable comorbidities in the context of infectious conditions. Multi-sectoral, collaborative, integrated, comprehensive approach to all causes of mortality approach should be adopted to avoid a backlash of mortality from other causes beyond Covid-19.
Every patient deserves a chance. Let us not be found wanting. Efforts and resources to ensure cancer and other non-communicable disease prevention, screening, early detection, treatment and palliative care should continue concurrently with efforts against the pandemic should be implemented urgently. Indeed, every soul deserves a chance.