WHO SPEAKS AS CANCER BURDEN RISES IN AFRICA

By PRUDENCE IJAH, Abuja

The World Health Organization (WHO)
has called on African governments at all levels, to create an environment in which cancer risk factors, like alcohol and tobacco use, are reduced, while citizens are encouraged to maintain good levels of physical activity, healthy bodyweight, and good nutrition.

The Regional Director, of WHO Dr Matshidiso Moeti, who made the call on Monday in a statement to mark World Cancer Day 2019, said Cancer prevention and the creation of a culture of health is an essential mission of government, beyond that of the traditional health-focused departments.

He urged stakeholders to address the current inadequate access to cancer diagnostics and therapies, the lack of knowledge on cancer and low health literacy levels, culturally inappropriate cancer prevention materials, mistrust of the health care system, and fatalism regarding cancer cure.

According to WHO, Cancer continues to be one of the leading causes of mortality worldwide. New cases and deaths from cancer continue to rise. In 2012, there were 14 million new cases and 8.2 million deaths, whereas in 2018 there were 18.1 million new cases and 9.6 million deaths. If current trends are maintained, the cancer burden in Africa is projected to double from 1,055,172 new cancer cases in 2018 to 2,123,245 cancer cases by 2040.

Among the most important serious challenges facing cancer patients in most African countries are poverty, late and poor cancer diagnosis and lack of medical cover.

The key drivers of the increasing cancer burden in Africa include increasing exposure to known cancer risk factors, such as tobacco use, sedentary lifestyle, unhealthy diets, alcohol use and environmental pollution. Additional contributing factors in the rise of the cancer burden in Africa are the epidemiologic and demographic changes that are currently taking place.

The theme of this year’s World Cancer Day is “I am and I will”. According to WHO regional director, this theme was chosen as a reminder of the important actions that we can – and need – to take as individuals, groups, communities and political leaders, to reduce the impact of cancer on our lives.

Among the factors responsible for the high cancer burden in Africa are the absence of widely available information on the early signs and symptoms of cancer, late diagnosis, misdiagnosis, absence/weak referral systems, difficult access to care and treatment, catastrophic costs of treatment and medicines, and weak health care systems.

Only 26% of low-income countries around the world reported having public sector pathology services, and only 30% of these countries had cancer treatment services; however, 90% of high-income countries can offer such services.

The statement added that most cancer patients in Africa are diagnosed at a late stage and the prognosis for a positive outcome is lessened, even in cases where treatment is available and affordable.

He further advised that cancer diagnosis should not represent a death sentence in Africa, nor should it lead to catastrophic expenditure following out-of-pocket payments for diagnostic, treatment and palliative care, as a future without cancer is within the grasp of all.

Hr further urged African governments to resolve to end the injustice of preventable suffering from cancer as part of commitment for Universal Health Coverage and the larger push to leave no one behind, adding that thousands of lives can be saved in Africa with proper cancer prevention, early detection, access to proper treatment and care.

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