South Africa on Forefront of Medical Scene

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Groundbreaking Breast Screening Machine for Grootte Schuur Hospital

Brand new South African born Aceso two-in-one Mammogram/Ultrasound machine was launched at the Groote Schuur Hospital in Cape Town on 5 November for it’s testing phase. Dense breast tissue poses a challenge in detecting early breast cancers in woman and combining mammography with ultrasound is imperative in these patients. The unit of R30-million is the very first in it’s kind to combine both modalities. This is especially developed by the Cape Ray Company for breast screening, where a significant number of ladies can be screened in a shorter period of time with increased accuracy in dense tissues. Images are produced simultaneously by low-dose X-rays and ultrasound. Ministers Naledi Pandor and Ebrahim Patel attended the launch and are both excited about the impact this could have on better healthcare opportunities, economic development and employment opportunities in our country.

Tribute to the Pioneers

Too many South Africans from all walks of life, backgrounds and races feel our government and public health systems are failing them. One heartbreaking example would be that of the two young work colleagues whose newborn babies both died a day after birth due to alleged negligence. The incidents happened within a two year period at two different state hospitals in Gauteng. Then on the other hand, there are the caring and hardworking unsung heroes of the medical profession, worth their weight in gold. We also have to acknowledge those innovative pioneers striving to make a difference. Naledi Pandor (Minister of Science and technology), Hendrietta Bogopane-Zulu (Deputy Health Minister) and Ebrahim Patel (Economic Development Minister) and Heather Harington (human resources director for the Cosmetic house Estée Lauder) are amongst the active pioneers. Ms Bogopane-Zulu hosted the “Pinkdrive UCT and Groote Schuur research and outreach” from 30 August tot 4 September 2015.

Misguided New US Breast Screening Guidelines

Breast cancer statistics worldwide are shocking, to say the least. One in ten women develops breast cancer, while only 10% have a family history. Even though breast cancer is diagnosed in more and younger patients before the age of 40, the highest incidence is still between ages 50 and 70. A study in London proved though that mammography cuts breast cancer deaths in middle aged woman by 40%. Despite all these hard facts, the American Cancer Society changed their screening guidelines. Previously the ACS guidelines urged women to getting a baseline mammogram at the age of 35 with annual screening mammograms between ages 40 and 70. They now suggest ladies to only start with annual screening mammograms at 45 and from 55 only every two years. This seems to be a “penny wise, pound foolish” approach. Sadly, it mostly all boils down to money.

One Size Does NOT Fit All

Breast screening for ladies with a positive family history for breast cancer cannot be handled in the same way as the rest of the population or even as someone carrying the breast cancer gene as such. Ladies with dense breast tissues should also be handled different than the others. Then there is a significant difference between the breast screening programs of other first world countries such as the USA, UK, Canada and Europe and what happens in South Africa. We simply don’t have the funding, numbers of skilled technicians, radiologists or the resources to deliver a full screening program to all our women. Sadly, annual or bi-annual mammograms are mostly only granted for members of a medical aid or those who can afford the expensive private service at this stage. Even though it might still be a long road, hopefully the new Aceso unit will change it all in time for government institutions.

SA to Manufacture Pneumonia Vaccine

South Africa recently made news with yet another medical accomplishment too. Global pharmaceutical company Pfizer, in partnership with SA Department of Science and Technology and Biovad, a local biotechnology organization, chose South Africa to manufacture the new Prevenar 13, containing no less than 13 different types of pneumococcal bacteria. This impressive pneumonia vaccine will be manufactured in Cape Town during the following five year period, aiming to prevent pneumococcal infections in children age 6 weeks to 5 years, as well as adults from the age of 50. The partnership between public- and private sectors was officially launched by Ms Pandor on 3 November.

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