World Cancer Day: the need for more awareness in Africa
Marked on every February 4th, World Cancer Day is an international initiative aimed at saving millions of preventable deaths each year by uniting people across the globe to raise awareness and education about the disease; thereby pressing governments and individuals to take action against the disease.
Cancer is a generic term for a large group of diseases that can affect any part of the body. One defining feature of cancer is the rapid creation of abnormal cells that grow beyond their usual boundaries, and which can then invade adjoining parts of the body and spread to other organs, the latter process is referred to as metastasizing. Metastases are a major cause of death from cancer.
There are many types of Cancer that are prevalent in our society today and they include; Skin Cancer, Blood Cancer, Throat Cancer, Lungs Cancer, Cervical cancer, and many more.
Across the globe, there is now an urgent increasing recognition of the need for high-level investment in the control of cancer alongside other major non-communicable diseases. At the Seventieth World Health Assembly in May 2017, governments from around the world adopted a cancer resolution which was in response to the growing burden of the disease.
Research from the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) shows that there were an estimated 19.3 million new cases and 10.0 million cancer deaths worldwide in 2020. This shows that cancer is now responsible for one in three premature deaths globally, and the leading cause of premature death in 48 countries, ranking above infectious and parasitic diseases, cardiovascular disease, and intentional and unintentional injuries.
Despite the age-long burden of Cancer in Africa, the non-communicable disease continues to receive low public health priority in the continent. According to the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), about 715,000 new cancer cases and 542,000 cancer deaths occurred in 2008 in Africa. These numbers are projected to nearly double (1.28 million new cancer cases and 970,000 cancer deaths) by 2030 simply due to the aging and growth of the population, with the potential to be even higher because of the adoption of behaviors and lifestyles associated with economic development, such as smoking, unhealthy diet, and physical inactivity.
Health Experts suggest that the insensitivity of Africa government to the ravaging effect of this disease is largely because of limited resources and other pressing public health problems, including communicable diseases such as acquired immune deficiency syndrome (AIDS)/human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) infection, malaria, and tuberculosis. It may also be in part due to adequate awareness about the magnitude of the current and future cancer burden among policymakers, the general public, and international private or public health agencies.
Cancer awareness in Africa
Population growth and aging are fueling a rise in cancers and other non-communicable diseases in sub-Saharan Africa. Between 2000 and 2020, the number of people between the ages of twenty-five and sixty-four in sub-Saharan Africa grew more than 84 percent. As a result, sub-Saharan Africa gained 177 million more adults in that age range in just two decades.
Such dramatic demographic changes are accelerating a shift away from the infectious and nutritional diseases that mostly affect children toward cancer and the other non-communicable diseases that mostly afflict adults. Treating cancer requires more. It takes more health infrastructure, more clinics, more labs, more hospitals, more X-ray machines, and MRIs, and more skilled workers to make accurate diagnoses and perform radiotherapy, chemotherapy, and surgery.
The best resources available for sub-Saharan Africa aside from massive investment in its health sector is public knowledge and awareness about cancer. Cancer awareness is especially important to improve risk reduction behaviors, promote timely cancer screening for early detection, and ultimately reduce the cancer burden in sub-Saharan Africa.
Poor cancer awareness and knowledge among primary health-care providers in sub-Saharan Africa has negatively affected accurate diagnosis at the primary care level and causes delays in referrals to specialists and late diagnosis.
Since one of the key resources available to Africa at this crucial time is massive public awareness, efforts must be made to train health-care workers; as this is crucial to raise public awareness of cancer in sub-Saharan Africa.
African leaders can step up their efforts by investing in Cancer advocacy programmes. Active cancer advocacy is necessary to reverse the cancer crisis and make cancer issues a high priority in Africa. This goal can be achieved by the mobilization of resources within sub-Saharan African countries for health promotion, prevention, and survivorship strategies.
African governments can also form key partnerships with major stakeholders eg, political officials, and researchers to respond appropriately to cancer epidemics in the region.
Other methods for creating awareness are:
- Posters, articles in the press, talk on radio and television programmes in the local languages and official language of the countries.
- Health education at schools, meeting places, and workplaces.
- Incorporation of health education materials on cancer into primary and secondary school curricula.
“I am and I will”
The theme for 2021 World Cancer Day “I am and I will,” is a reminder that each one of us can play a role in reducing the impact of cancer. Recognizing the unique challenges, the world has confronted with COVID‐19, World Cancer Day 2021 is dedicated to the courage and achievements of people living with cancer and their families, as well as the nurses, doctors, researchers, volunteers, advocates, and others who care for them and work on their behalf.