CANSA – Guardian of Cancer Patients’ Human Rights
17 March 2022 – On 21 March, Human Rights’ Day is celebrated coinciding with the 25th anniversary of the adoption of the Constitution, that enshrines the rights of all people in South Africa and affirms the democratic values of human dignity, equality and freedom. The Cancer Association of South Africa (CANSA) upholds and helps protect the human rights of cancer patients, by speaking on behalf of patients through its Advocacy and Service departments and facilitating improved access to medication, treatment and palliative care.
CANSA receives numerous queries and complaints from patients and families who make use of the public healthcare system, requesting assistance from CANSA. These include: access to treatment (where life-saving equipment for radiotherapy or scanners and X-ray machines are out of order, causing delays in diagnosis and treatment, or treatment is delayed due to a shortage of drugs used for treatment); patients not getting histological report results timeously (it can take up to two months); poor communication or feedback to the patient and family regarding their illness, treatment and prognosis and outpatients not receiving sufficient stoma bags or education around the use of stoma bags affecting patients’ dignity and quality of life.
Further, at certain public healthcare facilities, mammograms are not available due to a shortage in qualified staff potentially resulting in late diagnoses of breast cancer in patients. A shortage in qualified radiographers has also been noted. At some hospitals, male patients with prostate cancer cannot get a first appointment for at least five months. Patients also contact CANSA when they have been discharged without proper pain management medication, complaining of pain. This should not be happening because Palliative care is fundamental to health and human dignity and is a basic human right.
Zodwa Sithole, CANSA’s Head Advocacy, is concerned about the lack of cancer services in certain areas and stresses the urgency of the situation, “The right to cancer care and control should be a human right accessible to all patients with cancer, regardless of geographic or economic region, to avoid unnecessary deaths and suffering from cancer. As CANSA, we urge the Department of Health to intervene urgently when necessary to address the needs of cancer patients timeously. Delays in treatment causes distress for patients as it potentially exposes them to developing complications, spreading of cancer or even death. Patients must wait for months before getting a first appointment and by the time they do get an appointment, their cancer has advanced to stage three or four. Families are desperate to get their loved ones the help they need, and tired of seeing them suffering.”
The National Cancer Strategic Framework (2017 – 2022) was initiated to reflect SA’s commitment to reduce the burden of cancer among all citizens. However, many people, especially poorer patients relying on the public healthcare sector, continue to experience inequality in accessing health services.
A patient in her 30’s shared her experience with CANSA, “In December 2021 I was rushed to the hospital due to a non-stop flow of blood. At hospital I was diagnosed with a life-threatening disease (cancer stage 3 / 4). It was during this time when I was given an appointment date to start with radiation treatment. This was meant to be immediate. Unfortunately, my appointments were always postponed, and my condition got worse. The cancer is spreading so fast. I can’t even walk or sit up straight.”
“Cancer patients should be a public healthcare priority. They should not be allowed to suffer, because of a lack of equipment, medication, or qualified staff. The right to cancer screening services, treatment, medication, and palliative care is a basic human right, and CANSA will continue to work with the national and local health departments / medical institutions to see to it that patients’ human rights are upheld,” concluded Sithole.
Rights beyond cancer
CANSA is a founding member of the South African Non-Communicable Diseases Alliance (SANCD+A) and together, have lodged an active human rights case. The SA Human Rights Commission case addresses the neglect of seven human rights of people living with non-communicable diseases (NCD+) beyond health.
Dr Vicki Pinkney-Atkinson, Director of SANCD+A states, “Cancer is a crucial example of only one group of non-communicable disease. Many more people who live with one or more NCDs+ have similar long-standing difficulties accessing care. COVID-19 exposed their vulnerability, and we want action, not degrading silence.”
The case can be viewed here online https://www.sancda.org.za/knowledge-base/ncds-human-rights-complaint-sahrc/
How CANSA Helps Uphold Patient’s Human Rights
- CANSA’s Advocacy department contacts local health departments and institutions on behalf of individual cancer patients to follow up on complaints or queries around delays in treatment, access to medication and palliative care. CANSA also reports these to national and local healthcare authorities to make them aware of the need to improve services.
- CANSA Care Homes provide accommodation to patients who receive treatment at institutions far from where they live for the duration of their treatment, providing meals and transport to treatment. TLC Lodges accommodate children receiving cancer treatment far away from home and their parents / guardians.
- A free Tele Counselling service is available to cancer patients, caregivers and loved ones. An appointment may be made at 0800 22 66 22. The service is available in seven languages (English, Afrikaans, IsiXhosa, isiZulu, siSwati, SeSotho and Setswana)
- A free Tele Stoma service enables patients who are not able to come into a CANSA Care Centre for a consultation as they live in a remote area, the opportunity to receive support and guidance regarding stoma management and care from a qualified specialist. Affordable, high quality stoma products are also available through CANSA.
- CANSA offers online support groups and resources for cancer patients, caregivers and loved ones.
- CANSA educates the public in how to lower their cancer risk and offers affordable cancer screening services.
(For more information, please contact Lucy Balona, Head: Marketing and Communication at CANSA at email email@example.com. Call 011 616 7662 or mobile 082 459 5230.)
CANSA offers a unique integrated service to the public and to all people affected by cancer. CANSA is a leading role-player in cancer research and the scientific findings and knowledge gained from our research are used to realign our health programmes, as well as strengthen our watchdog role to the greater benefit of the public. Our health programmes comprise health and education campaigns; CANSA Care Centres that offer a wide range of care and support services to those affected by cancer; stoma and other clinical support; medical equipment hire, as well as a toll-free line to offer information and support. We offer a Tele Counselling service in seven languages free of charge. We also supply patient care and support in the form of 8 CANSA Care Homes in the main metropolitan areas for out-of-town cancer patients and CANSA-TLC lodging for parents and guardians of children undergoing cancer treatment.
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