THE high number of children losing their eyesight due to eye cancer in Zimbabwe has been attributed to delays in medical care seeking.
Dr Boniface Macheka, the chief government ophthalmologist and head of the Sekuru Kaguvi Eye Hospital, said retinoblastoma, a rare eye cancer found in children in which the retina is affected, accounted for 15 percent of the country’s paediatric cancers in 2018.
According to the 2018 Zimbabwe National Cancer Registry, a total of 293 paediatric cancers (0-14 years) were registered in 2018.
Leukaemia accounted for 18 percent, renal tumours (17 percent), lymphoma (13 percent), soft tissue (11 percent), central nervous system (8 percent), bone tumours (6 percent) and neuroblastoma (3 percent).
Although most cases (about 60 percent) involve only one eye, in some cases both eyes may be affected.
Dr Macheka said early identification can enable possible treatment via chemotherapy or radiotherapy and limit the effects of the cancer.
Awareness campaigns to educate parents and healthcare workers have been conducted to identify these conditions early.
“Sight is the most important sense we have as human beings and if we are not attending to it, one can get blind from something that can be prevented.
“Retinoblastoma is a rare cancer which affects one in 17 000 to 20 000 live births, but when it does occur, it can be very devastating. However, it can be dealt with if identified early,” said Dr Macheka.
He said retinoblastoma could manifest itself at birth if it’s hereditary, hence the need for parents and caregivers to constantly check their children’s eyes, particularly those with a family history of eye cancers.
He said the Government has been rolling out awareness campaigns, including messages on the next road-to-health card with the aim to educate parents, caregivers and primary health care workers on how to identify such conditions early.
“This way we can increase awareness even from the clinics where nurses who administer routine vaccinations to children can help to identify eye cancer early.
“Even when the mothers see the pictures on the card, they can quickly seek assistance.”
According to studies, most children (95 percent) with eye cancer who begin treatment before the retinoblastoma has spread beyond the eye, can be cured and their vision saved.
“A child with this condition can be identified by looking at the eyes or even when you try to take a picture of that child, you can tell that the eye is not normal.
“Once it is established, there are various treatment methods available. We only have to catch it early,” he said.