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South Africa faces a socio-economic challenge of being the most unequal society in the world according to the World Bank. This means there is a big gap between the poor and the rich with the majority of the population categorised as poor. This is compounded by the fact that the poor receive inadequate delivery of basic services by the state and by contrast the wealthy are able to access quality private services. The inequality is visible in education, healthcare and many other sectors. However, in this piece we focus on the inequality that exists for patients with cancer.

What is cancer?

Cancer is a disease that divides itself in the body with the ability to reproduce thousands of other cancerous cells that then spread. The cells change inside the body until a person develops a tumor which can take two forms:

  • A malignant tumor – spreads across the body, reproduces itself and is able to grow back even after receiving medical attention.
  • A benign tumor – grows in one part of the body but once removed it cannot return to the body.

In combating cancer, the national government in partnership with international non-profit organizations such as the World Health Organization (WHO) recognise the month of October as Breast Cancer Awareness month where cancer survivors and those who have lost their lives to cancer are celebrated. It is also an opportunity for cancer organizations and activists to educate people about the truths and myths of the disease. Furthermore, it is also their job to transform the language around cancer in order to sensitise and destigmatize the terms of reference for those living in rural communities. For example: a misconception around cancer is that it is “a white person’s disease”. Research says that this is false.

Cancer has negative physical and emotional effects on the diagnosed person; making them live in fear, anxiety, and depression. This is in addition to the stress that can arise from the financial burden of medical costs. Furthermore, limited visitation from family and friends can leave cancer patients feeling isolated and abandoned. These feelings can be greater for those who are breadwinners or single parents.  

Extreme inequality can leave South African cancer patients faced with the following:

  • Loss of employment.
  • Insufficient care and resources in community health care facilities.
  • Disintegrated family life.
  • Financial distress from surgery and chemotherapy.
  • Transport costs in order to reach clinics.
  • Unaffordability of a specialised diet.

The social burden placed on cancer patients has them in distress that national campaigns undertaken in the name of raising awareness do little to help them. They are subjected to a lack of basic services and that means their treatment is rolled out late in rural areas. This leads to a lack of care in detecting the signs and symptoms of cancer early.

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Compiled by : Ntombikayise Gijana