By Jeremy Gwao and Georgina Kekea
‘Cervical cancer is the leading cause of cancer deaths in Solomon Islands followed closely by breast cancer with oral cancer, also gaining an increase’ says Dr. Soma.
Dr. Andrew Soma works as an Oncologist at the country’s only cancer unit at the National Referral Hospital. The Oncology Unit operates as a Day Care Centre only and tends to patients in need of chemotherapy as well as counselling.
“We don’t have a ward so this means we only work 8 to 4 or maybe more, depending on the number of patients.
The Oncology Unit was only established in 2018. But since 2019, the unit has seen a drastic increase in patients diagnosed with cancer. In 2019, more than 300 chemotherapy sessions were carried out by the unit. Two years later, just in 2021, the unit saw more than 700 chemotherapy sessions. This was more than half of the number seen in 2018.
Chorote was diagnosed with cancer in 2019. A fun, bubbly outgoing personality with more to live for, got the shock of her life when she was diagnosed with lymphoma. Lymphoma is a type of cancer that affects the lymphatic system. The main role of the lymphatic system is to manage the fluid levels in the body. Chorote’s lymph nodes at the hip was diagnosed with cancer cells.
Chorote has since recovered from cancer, but not yet cleared out of the woods. A changed lifestyle and a more positive outlook in life is what she needs to maintain her health. While Chorote was lucky to be able to get treatment in Honiara, for three year old Xavier, it’s a different story.
Xavier was diagnosed with leukaemia in June 2022. A heartbreaking moment for his parents. Francis Bele, Xavier’s father, did all that he could to raise funds to send Xavier overseas for medical treatment. A ‘GoFund me’ account, set up by Xavier’s uncle, Israel Sibia saw them reaching only 10 percent of their targeted goal. Additional fundraising efforts on the side and they were able to get medical treatment in the Philippines.
Now along the streets of Honiara, at the Honiara City Council Area, another fundraising drive, this time for 13 year old Leah. One More Shot, a group of photographers are taking it to the streets with photography to earn money to go towards Leah’s fundraising drive for overseas treatment. Leah was diagnosed with brain cancer towards the end of 2022.
One of the issues raised during Pinktober 2022, was the absence of a mammogram needed to detect breast cancer. Grace Hilly, a Zumba Instructor also raised her concerns about the hospital not having a mammogram, despite breast cancer being the second highest cancer deaths in the country.
In November 2022, the Solomon Islands Maritime Authority, issued a procurement notice for a mammography machine for the National Referral Hospital.
Prior to that, in September 2022, the World Health Organization (WHO) supported the Ministry of Health and Medical Services with 17 thermal ablation devices to be rolled out in Area Health Centres in Honiara, Makira and other provinces. Thermal ablation is a WHO-recommended procedure for treatment of cervical precancerous lesions – the damage or changes that may develop on a woman’s cervix that, if left untreated, could turn into cancer.
For Dr. Andrew Soma, his only strategy to counter the increase of this deadly disease is to raise awareness on the preventative measures Solomon Islanders need to take to minimise its risk. He said working in the Oncology Unit he saw first hand how bad it is for Solomon Islands with cancer.
Science says cancer can be prevented by making healthy choices. Healthy choices like keeping a healthy weight, avoiding tobacco and chewing of betel nut, limiting the amount of alcohol and protecting one’s skin from sun rays. Solomon Islands unfortunately also is one of the countries in the Pacific with the highest rate of non-communicable diseases.
NOTE: These interviews were first broadcasted in November 2022
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