Although President Lenin Moreno has apologized for comments suggesting that cancer is caused by bad thoughts and bad habits, many doctors and cancer patients are not satisfied.
“We are mystified why he would say such foolish things in the first place,” says Gustavo Dávila, president of the Ecuador Foundation Against Cancer. “It is almost inconceivable that he could be so insensitive to this terrible disease and to what thousands of Ecuadorians go through to fight it.”
He added: “His lack of sensitivity is even more appalling considering the hardship he has endured in his life,” a reference to Moreno’s paralysis due to a gunshot wound.
Although Moreno made his controversial comments a week ago at the Cuenca International Conference for Zero Hunger, the reaction has been building for several days on social media. According to Quito newspaper El Comercio, more than 200,000 people have weighed in on Facebook, Twitter, and in comment sections of news websites, almost all criticizing the president.
In his Cuenca comments, Moreno said that the person who benefits the most from a cancer diagnosis is the oncologist. “The doctor is happy because he will profit. That’s why there are more cancer doctors than patients.”
He added: “When I hear that someone has cancer, I tell them that cancer is not your enemy, it is a friend. It is a warning that you should change your toxic habits, toxic thoughts and toxic emotions. If you don’t, you will die.”
On Thursday, Moreno apologized. “I was wrong to speak without thinking and without having empathy for those who suffer,” he said. “I have always said that criticism allows us to improve and I apologize for my unfortunate statements. I have deep respect and affection for the Ecuadorian medical community. I also have great respect for those who suffer from cancer.”
Dávila and other Ecuadorian cancer experts are not buying the apology, however. “What he said in Cuenca is an indication of his ignorance about the nature of cancer and the professionals and patients who battle to overcome it,” says Nelly Valbuena, a cancer survivor and representative of the Breast Cancer League. “We are inviting the president to visit cancer hospitals and research facilities and to talk with those who are familiar with this terrible disease. We need to educate the president.”