Dr Matshidiso Moeti, World Health Organization Regional Director for Africa, has stated that if urgent and bold interventions are not implemented, cancer mortality could rise to nearly one million deaths per year by 2030.
According to her, an estimated 1.1 million new cancer cases are diagnosed in Africa each year, with approximately 700,000 deaths.
She said this in a message commemorating World Cancer Day 2023.
The World Cancer Day is an annual international event held on February 4 to raise cancer awareness and encourage cancer prevention, detection, and treatment. The theme for 2023 is “Closing the Care Gap: Uniting Our Voices and Acting.”
“The numbers are stark,” Dr. Moeti said. Each year, approximately 1.1 million new cancer cases are diagnosed in Africa, with approximately 700,000 deaths. Without immediate and bold interventions, data estimates show a significant increase in cancer mortality to nearly one million deaths per year by 2030.
“We should recall that the most common cancers in adults include breast (16.5 per cent), cervical (13.1 per cent), prostate (9.4 per cent), Colorectal (6 per cent), and liver (4.6 per cent) cancers, contributing to nearly half of the new cancer cases. Despite significant data challenges, the incidence of childhood cancer in Sub-Saharan Africa is estimated to be 56.3 per million population.
“Current projections show that Africa will account for nearly half of the global childhood cancer burden by 2050, necessitating swift action to address this issue, as was done for the young girl from Rwanda.”
She did, however, state that 12 countries in the region had valid National Cancer Control Plans, and that WHO was assisting eleven more countries in developing or updating their National Cancer Control Plans in alignment with global cancer initiatives, as well as the presence of governance structures at the government level to implement Cancer Plans.
She also stated that the organization, in collaboration with the International Agency for Research on Cancer, had established three cancer registration collaborating centers in Cote d’Ivoire, Kenya, and South Africa to facilitate capacity building for local staff and improve data quality for effective decision-making.
“Countries such as Ghana, Senegal, Zambia, and Senegal have developed National Treatment Guidelines for childhood cancer. Cancer Guidelines have been developed and are being used in 25 countries. The importance of political will in improving the cancer landscape cannot be overstated. In Ghana and Zambia, for example, childhood cancer medicines are included in the National Health Insurance Scheme. This type of strategic action will make a significant difference in the survival rates of children with cancer in these countries.
“We are working with Childhood Cancer International to create and test Mental Health and Psychosocial Support guidelines for children in Burkina Faso. It is encouraging to see a steady increase in HPV vaccination national introduction by 51% of the region’s countries, though coverage remains concerning at 21%.
“Currently, 16 countries have introduced high-performance-based screening tests in line with WHO recommendations and plan to scale up cervical cancer screening. The establishment of gynecologic oncology fellowships in Malawi and Zambia to improve access to cervical cancer treatment services is commendable and innovative.”
Despite the accomplishments, she noted that there are challenges, such as a lack of Population-Based Cancer Registries, limited health promotion, insufficient access to primary prevention and early detection services, and a scarcity of diagnostic facilities, which causes delays in diagnosis and treatment.
“Provision of palliative care is rare in Africa, notwithstanding the significant need for it. Africa has only 3% of the world’s cancer treatment facilities, with radiotherapy available in only 22 Sub-Saharan African countries, contributing to very low survival rates.
“By uniting voices and action, we can address cancer at individual and community levels: Choosing healthy lifestyles, getting vaccinated, and getting routinely screened against preventable cancers. It is the responsibility of parents to ensure that their eligible daughters receive HPV vaccines.
“I call on Governments to develop and update national cancer control plans, provide sustainable financing and invest in cancer registration. I urge governments to include cancer care in basic benefit packages and national health insurance systems. It is also critical to ensure adequate human resource infrastructure, screening, diagnostics, and treatment. There is also a need to expand the use of digital health and provide appropriate training to the cancer workforce.
“Finally, cancer survivors can lend their voices as advocates for better cancer services. They should be involved in the design of cancer services at all levels of health care because they have lived experience.
“Let us band together in the fight against cancer and take action to make universal health care for cancer prevention, treatment, and care a reality in Africa,” she said.
Together we’ll stand