The alarming surge in cancer cases which has more than doubled from 338,000 reported in 2002 to almost 846,000 in 2020 over the past 20 years in the African Region constitutes a major worry to the World Health Organisation.
World Health Organization (WHO) Regional Director, Matshidiso Moeti disclosed this in a statement to commemorate the 2021 World Cancer Day, themed, “I am and I will.”
While Moeti lamented the telling impact of Covid-19 on access to cancer care, she attributed the unprecedented rise in cancer cases in African countries to limited access to cancer screening and early detection, diagnosis and treatment.
“In many communities in African countries, people have limited access to cancer screening and early detection, diagnosis and treatment. For example, only about 30% of African children diagnosed with cancer survive, compared to 80% of children in high-income economies. Challenges in access to cancer care are further compounded in times of crisis, like the current COVID-19 pandemic.
“Human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccine introduction needs to increase to prevent cervical cancer. So far 17 African countries have introduced HPV vaccination nationwide, including Rwanda and Zimbabwe, who are both achieving high national HPV vaccine coverage with the commitment of their governments and partners.
“As countries work towards achieving universal health coverage with WHO’s support, provision of cancer services, including pain relief, should be integrated in benefits packages and social insurance schemes. To strengthen cancer services, capacity-building is needed of health workers at the district level, along with implementation of a comprehensive surveillance system, and investment in digital innovations to improve cancer care.
“Finally, we all have a role to play in reducing stigma around cancer, improving understanding of this disease and encouraging people to seek early screening and care,” she stated.
She added that, the rising cancer burden will place additional pressure on resource-constrained health systems and on patients and their families who incur catastrophic costs to access services.
According to Moeti, the most common forms are cancers of the breast, cervix, prostate, bowel, colon, rectum and liver, while the risk factors include older age and family history, use of tobacco and alcohol, a diet high in sugar, salt and fat, physical inactivity, being overweight, and exposure to specific chemicals, among others
“The African Region also bears the highest burden of cervical cancer among WHO regions, and so the World Health Assembly’s adoption in 2020 of the Global strategy to accelerate the elimination of cervical cancer as a public health problem was of key relevance to African countries. As part of the first wave countries implementing this strategy, Eswatini, Guinea, Malawi, Rwanda, Uganda and Zambia are scaling-up comprehensive cervical cancer programmes,” WHO Regional Director concludes.