Cancer is a global health crisis, with increasing incidence and mortality rates in low and middle- income countries, particularly in Africa. Despite being home to over 16% of the world’s population (2022). Africa contributes to less than 5% of global cancer research, leaving a critical gap in understanding and addressing the burden of cancer in the region. This article calls for a concerted effort to accelerate cancer care and research in Africa, to close this gap and improve the lives of those affected by cancer in the region.

The global burden of cancer is staggering, with the World Health Organization (WHO) estimating that there were 18.1 million new cases and 9.6 million deaths from cancer in 2018 alone (2022. Of these, Africa bears a disproportionate share of both incidence and mortality rates due to inadequate prevention measures, early detection strategies, treatment options and access to care for those affected by the disease.

Epidemiological data  indicates that between 2019-2023 an estimated 6-7 million people will be diagnosed with some form of malignant neoplasm each year within Sub Saharan Africa alone according to WHO estimates while Global Cancer Observatory data suggests mortality rates could reach up 4-5 million over the same period if current trends continue unabated (2020). These figures underscore just how crucial it is for governments, policy makers, civil society groups & international partners alike to come together now more than ever before to take action & address this public health crisis head on (Sambo et al., 2012). This can only be achieved by investing heavily into building resilient health systems capable of responding effectively to preventative measures such screening campaigns, training personnel & providing access to quality treatments at affordable prices.

The issue of cancer care and research in Africa constitutes a pressing global concern demanding prompt attention. The continent has experienced a marked increase in cancer incidence, with over 500,000 new cases being reported annually. It is anticipated that the impact of cancer in Africa will escalate significantly in the impending years, with a projected 1.5 million new cases and 900,000 fatalities by 2030 (Stefan, 2015). This increase is likely due to factors such as population expansion, an aging population, and improved access to healthcare across the continent. The predominant types of cancer in Africa encompass breast, cervical, prostate cancer, as well as cancers linked to infectious diseases, such as hepatitis B and C and human papillomavirus (HPV).

In Africa, there are several obstacles impeding progress in cancer care and research, including limited access to high-quality healthcare, insufficient specialized medical personnel, and a scarcity of funding and resources. Other difficulties include a lack of adequate infrastructure, a lack of public awareness, the stigma surrounding cancer, and a shortage of healthcare providers trained in providing evidence-based care. Despite these concerning trends, there remains a substantial void in both cancer prevention and treatment in African nations, many of which are inadequately equipped in terms of infrastructure and resources for early cancer diagnosis and effective treatment (J et al., 2016). To address these challenges effectively, it is necessary for a concerted effort from all stakeholders, including governments, civil society organizations, international development partners, clinicians, researchers, and academicians, working in collaboration through policy advocacy efforts at the local level and regional collaborations between African countries.

The Ministry of Health Rwanda has highlighted key challenges  for World Cancer Day 2023 to eliminate cancer in Africa. These include limited availability of population based screening programs, high operational costs associated with diagnosis, treatment of cancer patients, inadequate skilled human resources for prevention and control measures, inadequate infrastructure to support tertiary treatment centers and weak monitoring and evaluation mechanisms. All these factors must be addressed if we are to make progress towards eliminating this disease from our continent (2023).

To address the growing impact of non-communicable diseases, particularly cancers, in Africa, it is imperative that national strategies are developed by governments across the region. Civil Society Organizations (CSOs) can play a vital role in supporting awareness-raising efforts among vulnerable populations and promoting preventative measures against certain types of cancers. International organizations can facilitate collaboration among stakeholders and provide financial support when necessary. A comprehensive approach, including increased funding and resources for cancer research and care, improved healthcare systems and infrastructure, enhanced access to quality healthcare, reduced stigma surrounding cancer, and strengthened international collaboration, is crucial to effectively address the cancer burden in Africa. This approach should encompass the development of cancer care facilities, healthcare provider training programs, early detection and screening programs, and access to treatments such as chemotherapy and radiation therapy (Busse et al., 2014). By working together, African, and global organizations can collaborate and pool resources, expertise, and technology to effectively address these public health challenges.

Prevention is often overlooked in the current healthcare system, and treatment is the main focus. However, an integrated approach that emphasizes preventive measures is crucial with the increasing burden of cancers. Cancer screening is essential in closing the care gap and improving access to healthcare for all individuals. By identifying cancer early utilizing approved screening methods, patients can receive timely treatment that increases their chances of survival. Regular screenings also help identify those at risk of developing cancer, enabling preventive measures to be taken before the disease progresses. Ultimately, investing in cancer screening programs will lead to better health outcomes for all members within our society and is a crucial step toward achieving universal health coverage and ensuring that no one is left behind (2018)

In addition, academic institutions need to play an important role too by conducting scientific studies into better treatments options available specifically tailored for Africans. Such studies could include exploring innovative solutions such new drugs / therapies that might have potential benefits over existing ones currently used globally ; developing cost – effective diagnostic techniques based upon local context ; or researching ways how best practices from developed nations can be adapted so they are applicable within resource – constrained settings found throughout much parts of sub Saharan region By taking these steps collectively , we will make great strides toward achieving our goal (Pierre et al., 2017).

In conclusion therefore there is a clear need for urgent Call to Actions to ensure adequate resources allocated toward addressing the growing threat posed by cancers throughout the continentgiven its already limited capacity to adequately respond to rising numbers afflicted. Such efforts should aim to build upon existing infrastructure to expand availability diagnostics tools to improve accuracy detections while also increasing affordability treatments, so individuals have greater chances of surviving their illnesses without placing undue financial strain on their families or communities they belong too.

To address these concerns, experts will be meeting in Kigali 14- 16 November 2023 during Rwanda Global Healthcare Summit to discuss ways to strengthen the health resilience to be able to deliver adequate health services, strengthen public awareness, and compliance and access to the medicine in Sub- Saharan Africa. Follow the link for more info;


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Author: Richard MBAZUMUTIMA

University of Rwanda

College of Medicine and Health Sciences

Clinical Medicine and community health department