Five-year-old Aisha Nalweyiso has battled cancer of the blood (leukemia) for almost five months now, and is undergoing routine treatment, including chemotherapy.
Her mother, Ms Aidah Ndagire, says when her daughter fell sick showing a stiff neck, swollen eyes and frequent high temperature, she thought it was witchcraft.
“When I took her to the clinic, they treated malaria which never got cured until I brought her to Mulago hospital. They told me it was leukemia after running tests. I had spent a lot of money elsewhere,” Ms Ndagire says
She adds: “I thought cancer was a disease for the rich and old people.”
Like Ms Ndagire, many Ugandans still harbour different myths about cancer.
Dr Fred Okuku, an oncologist at the Uganda Cancer Institute (UCI), says such myths keep many people away from accessing early treatment.
“There are a lot of myths about cancer and that is one reason many people are dying. Most of them are spread and empowered by cultural beliefs,” Dr Okuku says.
He said many people still believe that cancer is caused by witchcraft and therefore, resort to herbalists for cure.
Dr Henry Ddungu, a hematologist at Mulago, says cancer has become the world’s leading killer because many cases are not treated on time.
“Every month, at least 600,000 people worldwide die of cancer and many of these deaths can be avoided by empowering people with the right information which demystifies the myths and apply practical strategies to create awareness,” Dr Ddungu said.
Data from the International Union against Cancer shows that globally, more than 12 million people receive a cancer diagnosis annually.
Today, the Ministry of Health and the cancer institute are marking World Cancer Day under the theme, “dispel damaging myths and misconceptions about cancer” at Kabwohe Town Council in Sheema District. There will be free treatment and screening at Kitagata Hospital.