Gold September is an annual campaign worldwide to raise awareness of childhood cancer. There are many advances in pediatric oncology, yet cancer remains a leading cause of mortality in children. It is imperative that children are diagnosed early for effective treatment of early-stage disease, which will translate into favourable outcomes and improved overall survival. Many factors are responsible for delays in childhood cancer, including the child’s age, family’s socioeconomic status, parental educational level, distance of residence from the hospital, cancer type, site, and stage.
Many children in low- and middle-income countries have poor access to hospitals, which in turn lack essential diagnostic tests, experience a shortage of nursing medical and surgical personnel, inadequate and erratic supply of basic pharmaceutical and chemotherapeutic agents, and an absence of radiotherapy, surgical and intensive care facilities. These are but some of the factors which contribute to patients presenting with advanced disease and resultant poorer outcomes.
As neonatal, infant and child health improves in South Africa, communicable diseases, such as respiratory and diarrhoeal diseases, HIV-AIDS, and tuberculosis, are better controlled. It is imperative to focus on non-communicable diseases such as childhood cancer and identify these diseases early, have access to the correct diagnostics and therapeutics and ensure the availability of supportive care to improve overall survival of our children with cancer.
The burden of the SARS-CoV-2 is further testing our fragile African health care systems. Many caregivers are unemployed due to national lockdowns, there are inadequate transport systems, and caregivers are afraid to venture out of the safety of their homes to seek healthcare as the ever-present danger of contracting Covid-19 lurks. Sadly, we may experience even further delays in the diagnosis of childhood cancer.
We should endeavour to ensure children with cancer do not face further delays in the diagnosis and treatment of cancer during the global SARS-CoV-2 pandemic.
The Siluan Warning Signs for childhood cancer were adopted by the South African Children’s Cancer Study Group and the national Department of Health to promote the early detection and we encourage the community to be a voice of hope this September and collaborate with health care workers, non-profit organisations, and the Department of Health to spread the Siluan Warning Signs for early cancer diagnosis. This could possibly save the life of a child or teenager.
If you are concerned your child may have cancer, please refer your child or teenager here: https://choc.org.za/choc-patient-referral-pathways/
Professor Gita Naidu
Chair: South African Children’s Cancer Study Group
Director, Non-Communicable Diseases National Department of Health
Chief Executive Officer
CHOC Childhood Cancer Foundation South Africa
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