Cancer deaths in Africa may rise exponentially by 30% -WHO

The World Health Organisation (WHO) has projected that cancer death rates in Africa will rise exponentially over the next 20 years, exceeding the global average by 30 percent if urgent action is not taken.

The global health body also expressed concern that Africa has only 3 percent of the world’s cancer treatment facilities, with radiotherapy available in just 22 countries in sub-Saharan Africa, which contributes to poor survival rates.

WHO Country Representative, Walter Mulombo, in his speech to mark the 2022 International Cancer Week, said a renewed effort to curb new cancer cases is urgent. According to him, “common challenges faced in the region include limited access to primary prevention and early detection services, lack of awareness and education in addition to 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,” he said.

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Every year, Africa records around 1.1 million new cases of cancer, resulting in up to 700,000 deaths, according to WHO. Breast cancer, 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 percent live in low- and middle-income countries. Survival rates are at a very low 20 percent or less in African countries, compared to more than 80 percent in developed countries.

To “close the care gap”, the country director said WHO supporting a number of key initiatives in countries to include the Cervical Cancer Elimination Initiative, the Global Breast Cancer Initiative, the Global Initiative for Childhood Cancers among others.

“For examples, in the African region, 45 percent of countries introduced national HPV vaccination programmes to address the cervical cancer threat. As WHO we are committed to supporting the country implement priority activities towards cancer prevention and control,” he added.

The International Cancer Week is commemorated every year and the theme for this year is “Bridging the Cancer Care Gap: Improving Diagnosis and Multidisciplinary Management”. This is in line with the World Cancer Day which was celebrated on the February 4 to mark the start of a three-year campaign to raise global awareness around cancer and its impacts, especially on our most vulnerable citizens.