World Cancer Day: Cancer is also an African Problem

Todays is World Cancer Day. With a heavy global focus on communicable diseases especially in developing countries, it may come as a surprise to some that more people die from cancer globally than from HIV/AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria. The surge in non-communicable diseases including cancers has been fuelled by longer life spans, cancer related infectious diseases, harmful practices such as smoking and environmental factors. According to specialists, by 2020, there are likely to be 16 million new cases of cancer in the world. 70 percent of these cases will be in developing countries. The World Health Organisation projects that by 2030, close to 1 million people will die from Cancer each year in Sub Saharan Africa. For every four people who die from HIV/AIDS, three people will die from cancer.

Due to limited resources and a serious lack of cancer care services in Africa, cancer is a heavy burden for developing countries. The continent lacks trained personnel and equipment.  Radiotherapy for example which is a key component for programmes that are targeted at controlling cancer is scarce. 80 percent of people in Africa do not have access to radiotherapy. In 2016, 15 countries in Africa had no radiation therapy at all. With the number of people with cancer projected to rise, how will African countries cope?

With terrifying projections on the extent to which cancer is likely to become a bigger burden for countries in Africa, there is a positive. A large number of cancers in Africa are caused by infections such as Hepatitis (B and C) which causes liver cancer and human papillomavirus (HPV) which causes 98 percent of cervical cancer cases. Through vaccines these infections related to cancer can be prevented. Simply vaccinating people may well be cheaper than cancer treatment. In the case of cervical cancer, screening programs for early detection are needed. Unfortunately most screening programs are carried out as part of pilot or research programs which are then permanently discontinued upon completion.

With the African continent lacking basis healthcare services and resources, there is no easy solution to the challenge of tackling the burden of cancer. Interested groups globally are making positive strides towards lightening the burden. The European laboratory CERN for example operates the largest accelerator in the world that looks at ways of making a more inexpensive accelerator for medical use. The International Cancer Expert Corp links medical experts from developed countries with colleagues in developing countries.

As we recognise World Cancer Day, let us remember that cancer is a neglected disease in Africa. The strong disparity in mortality between people in developed and developing countries stems from poor screening and diagnostic systems. While growing research, vaccines and inexpensive solutions cannot save everyone in Africa these simple, affordable and effective tools will lessen the growing burden of cancer and save many lives.


Featured image | Cancer | Steve Davis : flickr

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Best of Africa.

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