World Cancer Awareness campaigns: Go The Extra Mile For a Cancer-Free Africa

By Raine St.Claire

The World Health Organisation (WHO) released new estimates of global cancer burden just before World Cancer Day in 2024 on February 4. The latest data from 2022 shows that there were an estimated 20-million new cancer cases and 9.7-million deaths. The estimated number of people who were alive within 5 years following a cancer diagnosis was 53.5-million. About 1 in 5 people develop cancer in their lifetime, approximately 1 in 9 men and 1 in 12 women die from the disease.

Three major cancer types were lung, breast and colorectal cancers. Lung cancer was the most widespread cancer globally, making up 12.4% of new cases with 2.5-million instances. Female breast cancer followed closely at 11.6% (2.3-million cases), Breast cancer was the most commonly diagnosed cancer and the primary cause of cancer death among women, while lung cancer was the most common cause for men.

Projected Cancer Burden Increase

Over 35-million new cancer cases are predicted in 2050, a 77% increase from the estimated 20-million cases in 2022. The rapidly growing global cancer burden reflects both population ageing and growth, as well as changes to people’s exposure to risk factors, several of which are associated with socioeconomic development. Tobacco, alcohol and obesity are key factors behind the increasing incidence of cancer, with air pollution still a key driver of environmental risk factors.

Cancer Challanges In Africa: Insights, Trends and Concerns

In Africa, there are about 1.1-million new cancer cases reported each year. Resulting in around 700 000 deaths annually on the continent, by 2030, this number is expected to rise to 1-million deaths per year. Notably, 70% of global cancer-related deaths occur in low and middle income countries, where resources for prevention, diagnosis, and treatment are limited. In South Africa, cervical and breast cancer are common among women, while lung and colorectal cancer are prevalent among men. A recent report by StatsSA on cancer from 2008 to 2019 aims to guide cancer treatment and management strategies in the country, especially since the National Strategic Framework for Cancer expired in 2022.

Raising Awareness

The WHO World Cancer 2024 theme, ‘Close the Care Gap,’ urges collective action. By underscoring that “together, we challenge those in power,” serves as a call for global leaders to prioritise and invest in cancer awareness and initiatives. Without urgent measures, cancer mortality in the region is projected to reach about 1-million deaths per year by 2030, surpassing the global average of 30% in 20 years.

Currently, cancer survival rates in the WHO African region average 12%, significantly lower than the global average of over 80%.In South Africa, the rising prevalence of obesity poses a significant public health challenge. The Cancer Association of South Africa (CANSA) urges authorities to educate consumers about the health risks of unhealthy products and provide guidelines for healthier alternatives, given the high incidence of colorectal cancer.

By addressing modifiable risk factors like smoking, alcohol consumption, and obesity, individuals can significantly lower their cancer risk. The Union for International Cancer Control (UICC) emphasises the importance of healthy lifestyle choices. Millions of preventable cancer deaths are linked to unhealthy products and stands ready to assist governments in limiting exposure to tobacco, alcohol, and ultra-processed foods.

Closing The Gap in Cancer Care

A global survey by WHO found that only 39% of countries provided basic cancer management in their core health services for all citizens. Additionally, just 28% included palliative care, including pain relief, in their health benefit packages. These findings emphasise the need for greater investment in cancer prevention, treatment, and palliative care services to ensure universal health coverage for all.

The equity gap, affecting lives globally, presents barriers for those seeking cancer care. Factors such as income, education, geographical location, discrimination, and lifestyle contribute to disparities. The most disadvantaged groups face increased exposures to risk factors like tobacco, unhealthy diet, or environmental hazards.

The Goal: Health Equity Now

Closing the gap in cancer care is possible. Systems can be reimagined, situations improved, knowledge increased, and access to services made easier. Collective efforts can reduce inequity by:

  • Educating the public about cancer prevention.
  • Equipping healthcare professionals with skills and knowledge about how inequity influences cancer care.
  • Strengthening primary health care delivered in communities.
  • Addressing social and economic factors negatively affecting health through policy and programmes.
  • Increasing resources for cancer research and tracking the national burden of cancer to shape investments effectively.
  • Implementing country-specific cancer prevention and control plans addressing unique needs and resources.

Empowering Change: Urgent Call To Unite For Universal Care in Africa

WHO urges countries, communities, partners, and civil society to unite for universal access to cancer prevention and care. Stakeholders should prioritise achievable goals, implement proven interventions, and invest in cancer control efforts. Countries should utilise the updated WHO Best Buys tool for cost-effective policies, ensure affordable technologies and therapies for prevention and care, and enhance information systems for better decision-making.

This collaborative approach to cancer prevention and care captures the essence of this year’s WHO’s World Cancer Day theme. “Together, we challenge those in power” to go the extra mile for a cancer-free Africa!

Sources: CANSA | StatsSA|  The World Health Organisation| Cancer Research UK| PAHO

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