Closing cancer care gap: Africa bears heaviest burden

Monday February 20 2023
Cancer survivors protesting in Kenya.

Cancer survivors, patients and activists take part in a protest in Nairobi, Kenya on August 1, 2019, to demand the government declares cancer a national disaster and provides free cancer care nationally. PHOTO | TONY KARUMBA | AFP


Each year, an estimated 400,000 children below the age of 19 years develop cancer globally but the likelihood of surviving depends on the country they live in.

Up to 80 percent of children who develop cancer in high-income countries are likely to survive but only 20 percent in low-income countries.

During World Cancer Day celebrated on February 4, 2023, there was a rallying call to “close the cancer care gap”.

"But the worldwide inequities in cancer care and control are deeply rooted. Only 29 percent of low-income countries report cancer medicines are generally available compared to 96 percent of high-income countries," according to the World Health Organisation (WHO).

The organisation also said other disparities were in cancer prevention and care, exposure to risk factors, availability of public health programmes and access to diagnostics and treatments.

Many new cases


In general, cancer is the second-leading cause of death globally and 70 percent of cancer deaths occur in low-to-middle-income countries.

Approximately 1.1 million new cancer cases occur each year in Africa, with about 700,000 deaths.

“Forecasts show a considerable increase in cancer mortality to nearly one million deaths per year by 2030 if urgent and bold interventions are not taken,” said WHO Regional Director for Africa, Dr Matshidiso Moeti.

“We should recall that the most common cancers in adults include breast (16.5 percent), cervical (13.1 percent), prostate (9.4 percent), colorectal (six percent) and liver (4.6 percent) cancers, contributing to nearly half of the new cancer cases.” he said in a statement.

He also mentioned that with significant data challenges, childhood cancer incidence in sub-Saharan Africa was estimated at 56.3 per million populations.

Current projections show that Africa will account for nearly 50 percent of the global childhood cancer burden by 2050, compelling expeditious efforts to confront this.

Dr Moeti however said millions of lives could be saved by implementing resource-appropriate strategies for prevention, early detection and treatment.

According to him, provision of palliative care is rare in Africa in spite of the great need, with only three percent of the world’s cancer treatment facilities. He also said radiotherapy is available in just 22 countries in Africa, contributing to low survival rates.

“High-quality cancer services, including radiotherapy, complex surgeries, and novel treatments demand huge developments in infrastructure, workforce, education and training, at potentially dizzying costs.” he said.

In addition, he said countries were required to have a national plan for cancer control with health strategies that focused on in-country priorities, reflected local disease burden that targeted resources and advance care where they were needed most.

“Good governance remains significant in improving the cancer landscape,” Dr Moeti said.