Zoleka Zobuhle Mandela Credit: GIN photo

As Breast Cancer Month comes to a close (Oct. 31), South Africans have been rallying around Zoleka Zobuhle Mandela, granddaughter of Nelson Mandela, since she went public with the news that she was fighting cancer for the third time. 

The 42-year-old writer and activist shared the dismaying news on her Instagram account. 

“I am home and recovering from the side effects of my first session to treat cancer in my lungs, liver, ribs, spinal cord and hips. I’m battling to come to terms with my diagnosis. It’s both daunting and terrifying,” she said. 

Founder of the Zoleka Mandela Foundation to educate people about breast cancer, Mandela is the author of “When Hope Whispers,” a book about her many life challenges, inspiring people to follow their dreams. 

Meanwhile, at the World Cancer Congress meeting this month in Geneva, Switzerland, it was predicted that all cancers in South Africa would almost certainly double by 2030 without major spending increases for screening and prevention. 

This comes as new cancer therapies have boosted survival odds from six months to five or six years for even late-stage cancer patients. But expensive pharmaceuticals—the ‘financial toxicity’ of the new precision medicine drugs and scanning machines—benefit just 2% of the top tier medical aid plan beneficiaries. 

Those among the 84% of South Africa’s population who rely on the public sector must wait for acceptance in globally funded local precision immunotherapy research trials, a rare occurrence, said medical oncologist Dr. Ronwyn van Eeden. 

Already a leading cause of mortality in South Africa, cancer accounts for 10% of national deaths annually and can be partly explained by South Africa having one of the most inequitable health systems in the world, wrote Arabo K. Ewinyu in collaboration with Selogadi Mampane of the Southern Centre for Inequality Studies at Wits University. 

“Lack of access to health care is a reflection of income inequality, among other things and the uneven distribution of healthcare workers between private and public hospitals in South Africa is an indication of gross inequality, as most highly skilled medical professionals serve a minority of the population who often have medical insurance.” 

“Africa as a whole, for example, has one healthcare worker for approximately 1,000 people, South Africa being no different. This figure falls far short of the set standard of 2.5 health workers per 1,000 individuals that is required to provide basic health care.” 

Estimates reveal that over 80% of the South African population is uninsured. 

In another paper presented at the global conference, Cape Town’s Dr. Salome Meyer, a consultant to the South African Cancer Alliance, revealed there was no national cancer control plan in South Africa. The Strategic Framework and policies ‘will not alleviate the current cancer care gaps as provincial health departments are not instructed to prioritize implementation of cancer policies in health budgets,’ she asserted. 

Elsewhere in Africa, the first lady of Niger state, Nigeria, concurred that governments invest too little in cancer care. “In Nigeria we have a Cancer Control Plan, but it has not been implemented.”

Meanwhile, cancer’s high mortality rate shows no signs of abating. On the contrary, it now surpasses other highly prevalent local non-communicable diseases such as tuberculosis, HIV/Aids, and malaria, according to Medical Brief, an academic e-newsletter published in Cape Town. 

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