Worldwide, childhood cancer is likely to overtake infectious diseases

By Ndivhuwo Mukwevho

A KwaZulu-Natal healer is one of thousands playing a vital role in spotting early signs of childhood cancer. Catherine Ntanjana is one of 5,000 traditional health practitioners (THP) that the Childhood Cancer Foundation of SA (Choc) trained to recognise warning signs. Since her training in 2018, Catherine has advised three families to take their children for cancer testing. “I noticed their children had symptoms we were trained to spot. But what saddened me is that all of them just brushed me off and didn’t go to the local clinic,” said Catherine. The Cancer Association of South Africa (Cansa) said 800 to 1,000 children are diagnosed with cancer in SA annually. It’s estimated that at least half the children who have cancer are never diagnosed. But if caught early, most children can be treated successfully. Since many people consult a THP before a medical doctor, training traditional healers to detect early signs of childhood cancer is important. September is Childhood Cancer Awareness Month, which aims to reduce child mortality. Leukaemia, lymphoma, brain cancer and spinal cord tumours are among the most common childhood cancers in Mzansi. Early warning signs of childhood cancer include white spots in the eye, a new squint, sudden blindness and the sudden appearance of a lump on the abdomen, pelvis, head, neck, limbs, testes and glands. Weight loss, bruising easily and fatigue are other early signs.

Traditional healers are important in the fight against childhood cancer
Choc Programme Development Manager, Adri Ludick, said equipping THPs with necessary information and knowledge about childhood cancer is a game-changer in early diagnosis.
There are over 200,000 THPs in South Africa, and 70% to 80% of the population is thought to use traditional medicines or a combination of western and traditional medicine.
Adri said excluding THPs from the fight against childhood cancer would cost lives.
“The training of traditional medical health practitioners must be continuous. Communities respect traditional health practitioners. They not only fulfil physical health roles, but also feature significantly in the social and political spheres,” said Adri.

Knowledge is key
Reflecting on her experiences, Catherine said a lot still needs to be done to educate communities and traditional healers about childhood cancer. “Some of them do not know about childhood cancer as most of us only know about breast and prostate cancer. Then, there are traditional health practitioners who have the guts to say, ‘I can heal this’, which is wrong. That needs to change.” A paediatric nurse based in Polokwane Provincial Hospital, Patience Lehaha, urged parents not to use traditional medicines to treat symptoms.

Get cancer treatment at hospitals
“We know some patients/parents prefer to use western and traditional medicines to treat their children for cancer. Our advice is that they must refrain from doing this. The treatment offered at hospitals is enough to treat any type of childhood cancer,” said Patience.
Adri said traditional healers could also play a role in quashing many myths that lead to stigmatisation.
“We need to give people knowledge to change attitudes and practices to increase the survival rate of children with cancer,” Adri said. – Health-e News

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