Doctor attacks South African government for failing women while spending billions on arms deals

Hamburg, Germany: A leading South African cancer doctor has attacked his country's government for wasting money on "luxuries" such as defence while failing to implement a basic breast screening policy that could prevent many women dying from cancer.

Professor Justus Apffelstaedt told the 4th European Breast Cancer Conference that, while billions of rand are being spent by the government's Department of Defence in "questionable" arms deals to buy unnecessary military equipment, the health budget had not grown to a similar extent and "a coherent screening policy, as formulated in 2000 by outside consultants for the National Department of Health, is still not noted on the website of the Department, even less implemented."

Prof Apffelstaedt, an associate professor of surgery and head of Surgical Oncology Services in the Department of Surgery at the University of Stellenbosch, South Africa, urged the developed world to apply political pressure to help build better breast cancer care in Africa. He told the conference in Hamburg today (Thursday, March 18): "Political pressure needs to be exerted to shift priorities from luxuries such as defence to health care. Women must be empowered in the traditionally male-dominated societies of Africa. Developed countries can play an important role by making aid and trade relationships dependant on this political shift and by committing themselves to long-term collaborations with African institutions in breast health training and service."

Twenty per cent of South Africans have health insurance, and breast cancer diagnosis and therapy provision for them is as good as in developed countries. However, the remaining 80 per cent have to rely on the state provision, which has been marked by "stagnation and even regression in the past ten years" according to Prof Apffelstaedt.

"Mammography is largely limited to seven tertiary hospitals and breast cancer treatment has stagnated at the level of 1990. Newer

Contact: Emma Mason
Federation of European Cancer Societies

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