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09.10.2008 Health

Cancer kills 20 million people in Africa annually

By Masahudu Ankiilu Kumateh - Ghanaian Chronicle

Cancer is set to become the newest epidemic in the developing world. It already kills more people worldwide than HIV/AIDS, Tubercloisis (TB) and malaria combined.

It is estimated that currently cancer kills 20 million people in developing countries annually, and will triple to over 50 million new cases per annum, worldwide.

The Head of AfrOx, a global anti-cancer non-governmental organisation (NGO), Prof. David Kerr, disclosed this at the launch of a Cancer Awareness Month in Accra.

The Cancer Awareness Month is being organised by the Ghana Cancer Society (GCS), to create serious awareness about the threat posed by cancer.

Some of the programmes drawn to celebrate the month's activities, included radio and TV talk shows, public lectures and free breast cancer screening for women in some parts of Accra.

He identified lack of diagnostic and treatment capacity, inadequate cancer medicines, weak referral systems, and fragmented and under-financed healthcare systems that have not been set up for chronic disease management, as the major challenges inhibiting the fight against the cancer epidemic.

Prof. Kerr intimated that liver cancer (predominantly HepatoCellular Carcinoma, HCC) is by far the main cause of male cancer deaths in sub-Saharan Africa, adding the two main risk factors for HCC, chronic infection by hepatitis viruses, mainly Hepatitis B, HBV and exposure to the dietary carcinogen aflatoxin, are well established. While, cervical cancer is the most common cancer among women in Africa.

Also, in Africa, tobacco use is estimated to be related to only 10% of deaths (lung, throat, mouth, pancreas, bladder, stomach, and liver and kidney cancers), but recent evidence suggests an increase in smoking in the region, especially among young people.

With the decreasing markets for the tobacco industry in the developed world, the industry is seeking new markets, such as in sub-Saharan Africa, where they see enormous potential for growth.

According to him, mortality to incidence ratios of cancer, are much higher in Africa than in more affluent world regions, and improved access to proven, cost-effective therapy, efficiently delivered would save many lives, stressing that sustainable treatment programmes needed to be built, in the context of the available human resources, equipment and facilities.

“Ideally, each country should have at least one National Cancer Centre, with access to surgery, radiation and chemotherapy. Radiation programmes might be built on models provided by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), and their excellent programme for Action on Cancer Treatment,” Prof. Kerr said.

He announced that AfrOx intended to assist African nations to set up Cancer Intelligence Units, through the guidance of the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), to stem the current rate at which the disease spreads.

To further avert the cancer epidemic in Africa, Prof. Kerr added that AfrOx was seeking a total ban on tobacco advertising, and encouraged governments to heavily tax tobacco manufacturing companies, which would increase governments' revenues, and decrease the likelihood of people being able to afford tobacco products, especially cigarettes.

In African countries, where farmers rely on growing tobacco for income, support needs to be provided to farmers to plant and distribute alternative crops, he suggested.

Touching on training and education on cancer, Prof. Kerr indicated that, “AfrOx also has an important role to play in facilitating the coordination, commission and development of the various educational activities in which our African colleagues are so keen to participate. AfrOx will develop sustainable in-country training and education programmes on a cascade model, whereby African healthcare personnel are trained, not only to deliver healthcare services, but also to provide initial training to others within the locality.”

The Ga Mantse, King Tackie Tawiah III, who chaired the function, appealed to Ghanaians, especially cancer patients, to visit health facilities regularly, so as to detect the disease in the early stages of its development, saying “cancer diagnosed earlier is curable.”