HARARE – Government will be diverting part of money collected for the Aids levy to bankroll cancer treatment, Health and Child Care minister David Parirenyatwa has said.
Aids levy — introduced in January 2000 — is collected through a Parliament special tax act, which requires formal employers and their employees in Zimbabwe to contribute 3 percent of their income.
Conceived in response to the HIV epidemic and limited government funding, the trust fund has showed a unique and substantive result in provision of antiretroviral drugs.
Parirenyatwa told the Daily News that, for now, it was not practical to introduce a cancer levy as there were many other levies that had been implemented.
This comes as Zimbabwe’s death toll from cancer is sharply rising as the disease tightens its grip in a nation struggling to treat an illness driven by Western lifestyles, with calls to declare it a national disaster.
There are growing fears that unless government immediately declares an emergency situation on cancer treatment, several cancer patients who cannot afford treatment may just resign their fate to death.
“There are no immediate plans to introduce the cancer levy,” Parirenyatwa said. “What we have done is to try and integrate cancer issues with HIV so that we eat up on the Aids levy for now because they are so many other levies.
“It’s an important area, cancer, so is Aids, so is a lot of other things. So we believe that the cancer levy, while desirable, for now, we will continue to eat into the Aids levy. Cancer drugs are expensive and I think government is now alert to the issue of cancer.”
Cancer patients have called on government to intervene and assist victims grappling with steep treatment costs.
Cancer, which harms the body when altered cells divide uncontrollably to form lumps or masses of tissue called tumours, kills more people annually than HIV, malaria and tuberculosis combined.
According to the Health and Child Care ministry, radiotherapy costs between $3 000 and $4 000 for a whole session. Chemotherapy costs between $100 to $1 000 per cycle depending on the stage the cancer is, and a cancer patient may need a minimum of six cycles and these can go up to 12.
Because most patients with cancer in Zimbabwe present with advanced disease, most need some form of chemotherapy. But the local pharmaceutical industry does not manufacture these drugs, so depend on imports.
Amid a crippling foreign currency crisis, chemotherapy drug supplies have become erratic, making it difficult to plan the patient’s care path, which, in turn, greatly affects treatment outcomes.