SWITZERLAND— To commemorate World Cancer Day on February 4, the Union for International Cancer Control (UICC) has released the World Cancer Day 2024 Equity Report.

This report was released in the presence of UICC CEO Dr. Cary Adams and UICC Board Members Dr. Zainab Shinkafi-Bagudu, founder of the Medicaid Cancer Foundation (MCF) in Nigeria, and Dr. Miriam Mutebi, a breast surgical oncologist at the Aga Khan University Hospital in Nairobi, Kenya.

The press briefing provided an opportunity for specialists to share their perspectives on the growing gaps in cancer care in their countries and Sub-Saharan Africa.

The rise in cancer cases is particularly concerning because, as a result of population changes, many more individuals in Kenya and Nigeria are living longer lives. Lifestyle changes, such as food and physical exercise, contribute to growing incidence rates.

Because modifiable behavioural factors account for more than 40% of all cancer deaths, UICC’s World Cancer Day 2024 Equity Report emphasizes the importance of implementing cost-effective, evidence-based preventative interventions.

These measures include limiting the promotion, sale, and use of tobacco, alcohol, and unhealthy foods that can lead to overweight and obesity, are critical for lowering health disparities and the cancer burden.

In 2020, over 800,000 new cancer cases were reported in Sub-Saharan Africa, and more than half a million men and women died as a result of cancer.

Cancer is responsible for about 80,000 fatalities in Nigeria each year, with breast and cervical cancer being the most common.

It is one of the top three causes of mortality in Kenya, accounting for roughly 27,000 deaths per year, alongside breast and cervical cancer.

Breast and cervical cancers are the most common and cause the greatest number of cancer fatalities in Sub-Saharan Africa. However, if discovered and treated early, these cancers are among the most successfully treatable.

Dr. Mutebi noted that patients in many countries in sub-Saharan Africa are frequently diagnosed with cancers at advanced stages and often do not complete their care. This is due to financial stains resulting from out-of-pocket payments, lack of equipment and medication, and often low health worker knowledge of cancer signs and symptoms.

These hurdles are common throughout the region, and they frequently combine with the stigma associated with cancer, collectivism, and other socioeconomic variables to limit access to care, resulting in greater mortality.

Dr. Mutebi also mentioned that early detection and some opportunistic screening programs are available in Kenya and Nigeria, but they only reach a small percentage of those who require them. Even though cervical cancer is the primary cause of cancer-related deaths among women in Kenya, less than 20% of them participate in screening.

Dr. Mutebi consequently urged for coordination among local governments, NGOs, and international organisations to ensure that ‘system preparedness’ goes beyond screening and that systems have the expertise, referral networks, and ability to treat newly diagnosed patients.

According to her, these collaborative efforts could help strengthen the healthcare infrastructure in these settings, making diagnostics and treatment more accessible. Specifically, she believes that using disruptive funding models to support both sustainable health financing and research from low- and middle-income countries would help to improve patient outcomes.

She also emphasised the importance of diversifying and expanding the health workforce across the care continuum, which will aid in the expansion, diversity, and retention of the health workforce not just to ensure gender equity in leadership roles but also to improve patient care.

Dr. Shinkafi-Bagudu, for her part, stated that in rural places, such as Sokoto State, many individuals must travel long distances for diagnosis and treatment, with obstacles such as a lack of information and cultural beliefs hampering early detection.

She emphasized the importance of including religious and traditional leaders in awareness campaigns to reduce societal stigmas and misconceptions about cancer, as well as ensuring that free or subsidized screening services are used effectively.

Dr. Shinkafi-Bagudu ended by emphasizing the importance of prioritizing the implementation of universal health coverage to ensure access to comprehensive cancer care without budgetary constraints.

She also advocated for the establishment of a cancer care investment fund for infrastructure development in each state, as well as support for expedited oncology training programs at teaching hospitals, which will help retain knowledge and improve care, according to her.

Dr. Adams concluded the presser by emphasizing that the report presented an overview of the problems people encounter in accessing the care they need and suggested solutions to help overcome them regardless of their living standards, age, gender, or skin colour. 

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