There is need to support countries in setting up effective programmes against cancer, particularly cervical and breast cancers.
Dr Andreas Ullrich, adviser to the assistant director general non-communicable diseases and mental cluster, World Health Organisation (WHO), said this in Kigali on Wednesday.
He was briefing journalists about a new partnership that was launched on the sidelines of the World Economic Forum on Africa in Kigali, meant to drive the prevention against cervical cancer campaign in Africa.
The new partnership, ‘AFRO Comprehensive Cervical Cancer Prevention and Control Initiative’, will work across the African region to improve awareness, and help empower women and health care professionals to improve prevention, screening and treatment rates of breast and cervical cancers.
The partnership, launched Wednesday, is between the WHO and International Federation of Pharmaceutical Manufacturers and Associations.
Dr Ullrich explained that the partnership seeks to bring various stakeholders onboard to help improve health care.
“The general principle is early detection of cancer, even women who have no signs or symptoms od the disease should go for screening. We can save lives by doing early screening and we need to adapt this to the African context,” he said.
Ministries of health will take the lead in this, according to the official.
Dr Ullrich said, “We have discussed how we can capitalise on our own projects, how we can integrate lessons learned from many small and medium community based NGO projects because this is all about coming together, mapping who is doing what and evoking stages of the implementation of the plan for us to move forward.”
A very solid monitoring system on the situation on cancer is also a requirement for the project to succeed.
Dr Prebo Barango, a medical officer, non-communicable diseases at the WHO, observed that the main challenge with cervical cancer is that it has a long phase. He said every woman who is between the ages of 30 to 49 should go for screening.
“The benefit of screening is that if you have cancerous signs they can be treated and that’s why we want to encourage women and communities to always go for early screening. The key message here is that cervical cancer is a preventive disease and that there are safe tests and treatment for it,” Dr Barango said.
He said some tool kits were developed for advocacy with the aim of making sure that women are aware of the services that are available as well as the signs and the symptoms of the disease.
‘‘We started with four countries, namely; Uganda, Zambia, Cameroon and Swaziland, we were testing the waters since it’s the first time that WHO and IFPMA are entering this kind of partnership but the model will be expanded in the near future, said Barango.
The partnership entails training of health care providers on how to counsel patients on cervical cancer, and community mobilisation.
Dr Abdikamal Alisalad, the acting director, non communicable diseases at the WHO regional office for Africa, said there are many obstacles to cervical cancer screening in resource-constrained countries.
This is generally attributed to the lack of infrastructure as well as technical, medical, and financial resources, and a lack of awareness and education on cervical cancer among women and health care providers.
“Many lives can be saved if public awareness is strengthened on the importance of testing and early treatment,” he added.
Partnerships are the way forward when dealing with complex challenges such as those posed by non-communicable diseases.
Eduardo Pisani, the director general of International Federation of Pharmaceutical Manufacturers and Associations, said that working across sectors enables partners to generate health outcomes that are sustainable.
“We are delighted to support WHO AFRO in implementing strategies that help alleviate the NCD burden in low and middle-income countries,” he said.
According to WHO, cancer is an emerging public health problem throughout the African region, and breast and cervical cancers are among the most common cancers affecting women.
In sub-Saharan Africa, the incidence of cervical cancer and breast cancer is no higher than in other parts of the world but the risk of death among women with either disease is much higher than in high-income countries eight times higher in the case of cervical cancer.
This is mainly because many African women are diagnosed too late which hampers effective treatment and care.
In sub-Saharan Africa, 22.5 per 100,000 women die from cervical cancer compared to 2.5 per 100,000 women in North America.