Cancer awareness workshops a big success at rural clinics

ICON was one of the main sponsors of a cancer awareness and education campaign, consisting of two workshops for primary healthcare workers in rural Limpopo, and they had such a positive outcome that future workshops at other clinics are on the cards.

There are some clinics in rural South Africa where nurses and other primary healthcare workers know almost nothing about cancer. They lack the training, equipment and proper procedures to adequately treat and assist cancer patients. This is one of the reasons experts say that the incidence of cancer in South Africa is high – with one in five people likely to get cancer in their lifetime.

“Cancer is becoming a growing burden for healthcare officials in our resource-limited country,” says Cape Town oncologist, Dr Martin de Villiers. “Some time ago, ICON was approached to contribute to raising awareness about the disease and to update education at primary care level. We jumped at the idea.”

Cancer.vive, a project of PLWC (People Living with Cancer), initiated the idea of a cancer awareness programme in rural Limpopo ahead of its annual community awareness motorcycle ride. In association with ICON and the Department of Health, the aim was to raise awareness and ensure primary healthcare workers were knowledgeable about cancer, particularly the early warning signs of cancer.

Linda Greeff, Oncology Social Work Services Manager at GVI Oncology, which is affiliated to ICON, says primary healthcare clinics in the state sector are not geared to screen for cancer on a daily basis due to extensive caseloads, as well as a lack of knowledge about cancer.

The healthcare outreach programme was developed for 80 officials from primary healthcare institutions in Polokwane and Modimolle and included facts about cancer awareness, early detection, screening for cancer and early diagnosis. “It also emphasised the important role of primary care workers, doctors, nurses, social workers and community health workers in terms of providing supportive and palliative care throughout the cancer patient’s journey,” said Dr de Villiers, adding that the meaning of patient-centric care was a strong theme.

“One of the problems is the lack of knowledge among staff and the resulting late diagnoses of patients, but add to this the fact that patients are often too far from tertiary hospitals and lack access to cancer care,” says Greeff.

She spoke at the workshops along with two oncologists, Dr Zirk Jansen of Polokwane and Dr Koos Bouwer of Pretoria on the basics of cancer, treatment modalities and newer developments, as well as the side effects of the different treatment modalities. Afterwards Dr de Villiers spoke about the cancer journey with an emphasis on the role of primary care practitioners.

“The healthcare officials were so grateful and eager to learn,” said Greeff. “It was really a great response and we are looking into the possibility of doing more training and separate programmes for doctors, as well.”

She said the Department of Health was very co-operative and supportive, indicating an interest in taking the programme to some of the other 400 clinics in Limpopo.

Each healthcare official also received an electronic copy of the ICON Guide to Quality Cancer Care – which is focused on providing evidence-based knowledge for primary care health professionals in assisting to diagnose cancer earlier, to support patients and family members and guidelines for palliative care.

Dr de Villiers said, “ICON aspires to be the leading player to address issues around cancer care in South Africa. We advocate a patient-centric and an integrated and multidisciplinary approach to cancer care.”

Dr de Villiers is responsible for the Integrated Continuum of Cancer Care Model (ICCCM) at ICON, which has as its goal to address the short falls in the quality of cancer care that lie outside the scope of the value proposition, like the training of family practitioners in aspects relating to earlier diagnosis, supportive care and palliative care, that still have a profound impact on the outcome of care.

“In terms of a future healthcare dispensation with universal coverage of all citizens, we also believe that we are already in a position to engage with decision makers in the public healthcare sector to work collaboratively towards better cancer care in all the communities served by ICON-affiliated oncologists and facilities.”