Cancer Cases in Africa Hits 846,000, Says WHO


By Onyebuchi Ezigbo

The World Health Organisation (WHO) has expressed concerns about cancer cases in Africa, saying that the incidences have more than doubled, from 338,000 cases reported in 2002 to almost 846,000 cases in 2020.

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

In a speech, yesterday to commemorate the World Cancer Day, WHO Regional Director for Africa, Dr. Matshidiso Moeti, said 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.
According to him, the risk factors include, old 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 on 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 stated 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.

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

He said only about 30 per cent of African children diagnosed with cancer survive, compared to 80 per cent of children in high-income economies.

He said that healthcare relief for patients should be integrated into benefits 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 far 17 African countries have introduced HPV vaccination nationwide, including Rwanda and Zimbabwe, which are both achieving high national HPV vaccine coverage with the commitment of their governments and partners.