Cancer Cases in Africa Hits 846,000, Says WHO

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By Onyebuchi Ezigbo

The World Health Organization (WHO) has said that cancer cases have more than doubled in the African region, from 338,000 cases reported in 2002 to almost 846,000 cases in 2020.

It said the most common forms are cancers of the breast, cervix, prostate, bowel, colon, rectum and liver.

In his speech to commemorate the World Cancer Day on Wednesday, WHO Regional Director for Africa, Dr. Matshidiso Moeti, said the current focus should be on the implementation of a comprehensive surveillance system and investment in digital innovations to improve cancer care.

“Over the past 20 years, new cancer cases have more than doubled in the African region, from 338,000 cases reported in 2002 to almost 846,000 cases in 2020,” he said.

He said the risk factors include older age and family history, use of tobacco and alcohol, a diet high in sugar, salt and fat, physical inactivity, being overweight, and exposure to specific chemicals, among others.

He also spoke of the factors promoting the rise in cancer cases, saying that industry interference is a growing challenge, including promotion and marketing of known cancer-causing products, such as tobacco.

He disclosed that 44 countries in the region have ratified the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control towards reducing tobacco use and that 20 have ratified the WHO protocol to eliminate illicit trade in tobacco products.

In many communities in African countries, people have limited access to cancer screening and early detection, diagnosis and treatment.

The WHO scribe said that only about 30% of African children diagnosed with cancer survive, compared to 80% of children in high-income economies.

He said that healthcare relief for cancer patients should be integrated in benefit packages and social insurance schemes.

“Challenges in access to cancer care are further compounded in times of crisis, like the current COVID-19 pandemic.

“The African region also bears the highest burden of cervical cancer among WHO regions, and so the World Health Assembly’s adoption in 2020 of the Global strategy to accelerate the elimination of cervical cancer as a public health problem was of key relevance to African countries.

“As part of the first wave countries implementing this strategy, Eswatini, Guinea, Malawi, Rwanda, Uganda and Zambia are scaling up comprehensive cervical cancer programmes. Human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccine introduction needs to increase to prevent cervical cancer,” he said.

Moeti said that 17 African countries have introduced HPV vaccination nationwide, including Rwanda and Zimbabwe, who are both achieving high national HPV vaccine coverage with the commitment of their governments and partners.