Africa May Account For 50% Of Global Childhood Cancer By 2050 -WHO

Dr. Matshidiso Moeti, WHO Regional Director for Africa.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) has said that if concrete steps were not taken to stem the tide of cancer, current projections has shown that Africa would account for nearly 50% of the global childhood cancer burden by 2050.

WHO Regional Director for Africa, Dr. Matshidiso Moeti disclosed this in her Message marking the 2023 World Cancer Day.

World Cancer Day is marked on 4 February every year to raise awareness of cancer and to encourage its prevention, detection, and treatment. The theme of this year is, “Close the care Gap: Uniting our voices and taking action.”

Moeti informed that Cancer was a public health issue of major concern as, “approximately 1.1 million new cancer cases occur each year in Africa, with about 700,000 deaths. Data estimates show a considerable increase in cancer mortality to nearly one million deaths per year by 2030, without urgent and bold interventions”.

She recalled that the most common cancers in adults include breast (16.5%), cervical (13.1%), prostate (9.4%), Colorectal (6%), and liver (4.6%) cancers, contributing to nearly half of the new cancer cases.

She further noted that, with significant data challenges, childhood cancer incidence in sub-Saharan Africa was estimated at 56.3 per million population. Also, current projections showed that Africa would account for nearly 50% of the global childhood cancer burden by 2050, compelling expeditious efforts to confront this concern.

The Health Expert disclosed that only twelve countries in the region had valid National Cancer Control Plans even as WHO was supporting 11 additional countries in developing or updating their National Cancer Control Plans aligned to the global cancer initiatives coupled with the presence of governance structures at the government level to implement Cancer Plans.

She said countries such as Ghana, Senegal, Zambia, and Senegal had developed National Treatment Guidelines for childhood cancer. Twenty-five countries had developed and were using Cancer Guidelines.

Moeti therefore opined that Political will remained significant in improving the cancer landscape. Noting the inclusion of childhood cancer medicines in the National Health Insurance Scheme in Ghana and Zambia was a good example as such a strategic action would significantly contribute to the increase in survival rates for children with cancer in these countries.

Highlighting some of the Organisation’s efforts towards cancer care, she said:

“We are collaborating with Childhood radiotherapy available in just 22 countries in sub-Saharan Africa, International to develop and pilot the Mental Health and Psychosocial Support guidelines for children in Burkina Faso.
It is gratifying to note the steady increase of HPV vaccination national introduction by 51% of countries in the region, although coverage remains concerning
at 21%.

“Currently, 16 countries have introduced high-performance-based screening tests in line with WHO recommendations and plan to scale up cervical cancer screening.

“The introduction of gynecologic oncology Fellowships for improved access to cervical cancer treatment services in Malawi and Zambia is commendable and innovative.

“Working closely with the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) in cancer registration, we launched three collaborating centers in Cote d’Ivoire, Kenya, and South Africa. The centers will facilitate capacity building for local staff and improve data quality for effective decision-making.

“Despite these achievements, stumbling blocks remain on our path. These include the low availability of Population Based Cancer Registries; limited health promotion; inadequate access to primary prevention and early detection services; the scarcity of diagnostic facilities that increase delays in diagnosis and treatment.

“Provision of palliative care is rare in Africa, notwithstanding the significant need for it. Africa has only 3% of the world’s cancer treatment facilities, with radiotherapy available in just 22 countries in sub-Saharan Africa, contributing to very low survival rates.

“By uniting voices and action, we can address cancer at individual and community levels: Choosing healthy lifestyles, getting vaccinated, and getting routinely screened against preventable cancers. Parents have the responsibility to ensure their eligible daughters receive HPV vaccines”.

She therefore called on Governments to develop/update national cancer control plans, provide sustainable financing and invest in cancer registration. She also encouraged Governments to incorporate cancer care into essential benefits packages and national health insurance systems.

Moeti said it was also critical to ensure adequate infrastructure for human resource, screening, diagnostics, and treatment and also expand the use of digital health and establish relevant trainings for the cancer workforce.

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