On Tuesday, 05 March, TB HIV Care (THC) received a notification of award for an exciting new community project to be implemented in the Eastern Cape from 01 April 2019.
The Eastern Cape Community Collaborative Cancer Initiative, as the project is known, is the second THC project to be funded by Bristol Myers Squibb Foundation (BMSF) and marks a notable diversification of the scope of services offered by THC. The overarching goal of the project is to support improved patient outcomes for lung cancer and other common cancers affecting people living in the catchment area of the Nelson Mandela Academic Hospital, by raising community awareness of lung cancer, promoting and linking people to screening, supporting navigation through the health system as well as supporting palliative and survivorship activities.
This community-based project will link with and support the activities of the Nelson Mandela Academic Hospital Oncology Centre of Excellence, which is being supported through a separate funding agreement with BMSF.
You may be wondering why THC, an organisation that has historically focused on two of the most prevalent infectious diseases impacting South Africans (TB and HIV) would be branching out into lung cancer, so here are some interesting facts:
- Lung cancer is the leading cause of cancer-related deaths in South Africa, accounting for around 16% of all cancer deaths, followed by cervix, breast and prostate cancer.
- Lung cancer is the second most common cancer affecting South African men and the fourth most common in women.
- People living with HIV who have access to effective antiretrovirals are living longer lives and co-morbid non-communicable diseases such as diabetes, heart disease and cancers are becoming an increasing health burden to this group and others. Yet many South Africans have limited awareness of cancer.
- There is evidence that TB, either active TB or successfully treated TB with resultant lung scarring, is a risk factor for the development of lung cancer.
- Lung cancer can present with similar clinical symptoms and X-ray changes to TB (incl. unexplained weight loss, a persistent cough, blood-stained sputum) and diagnosis may be delayed if health workers are not aware of the possibility of an alternate diagnosis to TB.
In light of this, we believe that it is important that links between TB and cancer service providers are strengthened and community awareness raised. TB HIV Care is therefore partnering with four community-based organisations (CBOs) in OR Tambo and Alfred Nzo districts to raise community awareness and support endeavours to equip community-based and primary health care providers with the necessary knowledge and skills to assess risks for lung cancer and refer patients for early screening.