Cancer: Africa taking the bull by the horn

By Henry Opondo

Roman Tesfaye, First Lady, Ethiopia when she got elected Chairperson of Forum of African First Ladies Against Cancer

Roman Tesfaye, First Lady, Ethiopia when she got elected Chairperson of Forum of African First Ladies Against Cancer

Reports from the many African representatives at the ongoing World Cancer Congress in Paris show a continent just waking up to the cancer challenge.
From Ethiopia, Uganda and Tanzania in Eastern Africa to Zambia, Zimbabwe and South Africa in Southern Africa to Sierra Leone in West Africa, the picture painted at the Cancer Congress is that of a continent decided on taking the bull by the horn despite the myriad of fundamental problems in their health systems and infrastructure.
In Ethiopia, the coming on board of the First Lady, H.E. Roman Tesfaye has seen the cancer profile rise. Among many other tactics the country has adopted include local training of oncology specialists at the Addis Ababa University.
Rwanda on the other hand has received support from the American Society for Clinical Pathology which aims to assist the country establish pathology centres across its regions. The country also wants to implement the national palliative care programmes.
Thanks to integration of its health prorgammes and coupled with aggressive training of its human capacity, Zimbabwe is succeeding to reduce the huge impact cancer has had on its population.
Currently, close to 15, 000 people die of the cancers annually with more than half of these being female. Lack of cervical cancer screening and treatment at the primary health facility immensely contribute to the high number of mortality witnessed.
To help lessen the burden of cancer, Zimbabwe launched in 2014 the oncology nursing training, rolled out cervical cancer screening to the grassroot and allowed local cancer research to inform her policies.
Zambia on the other hand has rolled out a test and see cervical cancer screening programme in 10 provinces. The result has seen huge number of women turning out for screening.
South Africa on the other hand is still grappling with data issues on cancer although there are lots of good indicators on cases presenting themselves in the healthcare facilities.
Not to be left behind, Namibia has turned to integrating multi-media technologies in its campaigns. The campaign uses 13 local languages to raise awareness and help reduce exposure to cancer risks in the general population.
In Sierra Leone, the under-funded and under-resourced ministry of health chose to partner up with the civil society and research organisations to begin spreading cancer awareness creation messages. Although the ministry set up a cancer registry in 2012, collection and collation of national data has proved a challenge and the country does not have a clear picture of the magnitude of the cancer problem.
Nigeria’s ministry of health has engaged the NGOs to create and use tribal jingles to dispel myths and stigma around cervical and breast cancer that have been identified as major hindrance for women in seeking screening and treatment.
Anne Korir, the Head of the Kenya Cancer Registry at the Kenya Medical Research Institute and Chairperson of the Kenya Cancer Association said a combination of factors can be attributed to the emerging picture in Africa. Increased awareness and improving infrastructure has seen many citizens coming out for screening and the improving treatment successes.
“We continue to see improved awareness, education and anti-substance uses like tobacco, alcohol and anti-sugary drinks all of which are helping the war against cancers,” she said. She urged African governments to stand strong against tobacco industry adding that take home lessons from the World Cancer Congress is that governments can tax the industry and channel the revenue to cancer programmes.
She adds that governments need to embrace innovations and ensure that their citizens get universal health coverage to help lessen the burden of cancer burden being borne by infected individuals and their families.

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