Organisation Calls for Improvement of Cancer Care in Africa

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By Adedapo Adesanya

Despite the significant improvement made in cancer care in African countries over the past decade, challenges in prevention, detection and treatment services, as well as financial hurdles, are limiting access to quality and adequate care to millions of patients.

To address these issues, the President-Elect of the African Organisation for Research and Training in Cancer, Dr Miriam Mutebi, has called for more hands-on solutions.

According to her, cancer care in Africa has greatly improved over the last 10 years with the latest data as of 2017 showing that 71 per cent of African countries have operational national cancer control programmes and the oncology workforce has increased steadily.

However, care and services vary widely due to cost, poor referral systems that may not support timely pathways to care or adequate treatment, palliative or supportive services and geographical inequities.

Dr Mutebi noted that the COVID-19 pandemic has shown that there are opportunities to expand the workforce by leveraging technology and taking advantage of the continent’s collective expertise aided by the increased involvement of the African diaspora and international community.

She also warned that inadequate cancer services mean a continued increase in premature deaths and advised that preventive health, which is essential in cancer risk mitigation, is important to lower the risk of other non-communicable diseases like hypertension and cardiac disease.

She noted that, “The same pathways that facilitate HPV vaccination can be leveraged for immunization against other infectious diseases. Beyond health, there are profound implications when a significant component of the workforce is lost or compromised. The average cancer patient in Africa is diagnosed at their most economically productive period.”

Speaking on how can African countries expand cancer care services, she noted that deliberate investment by governments in health and health systems is key.

“A paradigm shift is needed from approaching health as an expenditure to reframing health costs as investments. External sources can support initiatives, but the in-country investment is key to impacting public health.

“System-strengthening strategies must bring countries and their populations closer to the targets of universal health coverage. More community awareness of cancer prevention and early detection is needed, but systems must be prepared to support the entire cancer continuum from screening to survivorship.”

She also called for integrated approaches to cancer care which will optimize resources and prevent misuse.

“Pooled procurements of cancer medications and shared use of resources through established regional centres of excellence could reduce costs and improve access, as could decentralized essential cancer services like palliative and supportive care.

“Local manufacturing of cancer medicines and consumables such as stoma bags can also lower costs. Integrated curriculums can enhance education and minimize risk factors for non-communicable diseases from primary school onwards. Advocacy is key.

“The dream of value-based, high-quality, cost-effective cancer care across Africa remains our goal. If we harness our collective efforts and strengths, we will get there,” she added.

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