In the message issued by the WHO Regional Director for Africa, Dr. Matshidiso Moeti, it urged member states in the continent to make the necessary investment required to ensure that all our citizens, no matter their incomes or geographic location, have access to quality cancer care.
“Every year, Africa records around 1.1 million new cases of cancer, resulting in up to 700 000 deaths. Breast cancer, along cervical, prostate, liver and colorectal cancers, account for almost half the new cases on the continent annually.
“Children are also inequitably impacted. Of the more than 400, 000 children diagnosed annually with cancer around the world, about 90 per cent live in low- and middle-income countries. “Survival rates are at a very low 20 per cent or less in African countries, compared to more than 80 per cent in developed countries,” it said.
According to Moeti, this year’s theme, “Close the care gap,” marked the start of a three-year campaign to raise global awareness around cancer and its impacts, especially among most vulnerable citizens.
He also said that common challenges across the African region included lack of awareness and education, limited access to primary prevention and early detection services, coupled with delays in diagnosis and treatment.
“There is also limited access to palliative care and pain relief.
Shortages of specialists in medical and radiation oncology, pathology, medical physics and other essential areas compound the gaps.
“Africa has only three per cent of the world’s cancer treatment facilities, with radiotherapy available in just 22 countries in sub-Saharan Africa, which contributes to poor survival rates,” he added.
To “close the care gap,” WHO Africa is driving a number of key initiatives. These have seen 45 per cent of our countries introduce national HPV vaccination programmes to address the cervical cancer threat. National screening programmes are now operational in 72 per cent countries, 11 of which offer high-performance screening.),” he said.
Moeti further said that through the Global Initiative for Childhood Cancer (GICC), Zambia, Senegal and Ghana have developed country-specific treatment guidelines, established pediatric hospital-based registries, and improved access to chemotherapy.
He disclosed that Senegal was in the process of including childhood cancers in its new National Cancer Control Plan.
Moeti said that last year, WHO Africa partnered with St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital in the United States to launch the groundbreaking Global Platform for Access to Childhood Cancer Medicines.
“It is expected to contribute significantly to closing the cancer care gap for children on the continent.
As countries work towards universal health care, with the support of WHO, cancer risk factors need to be prioritized. Equitable access to life-saving vaccines, robust screening and early detection programmes, combined with a skilled workforce and adequate infrastructure and equipment, are also critical.
“As individuals, governments, partners and civil society, we all have a role to play. It will take a combined effort and multi-sectoral approach to achieve uninterrupted access to affordable, safe and effective cancer therapies for all,” he said.