Today, 4 February 2015, the World Health Organization joins the rest of the international community in commemorating World Cancer Day. The theme for this year’s commemoration is “Not beyond us”. This theme highlights the efforts that individuals, communities, governments and other stakeholders can make in the prevention and control of cancer.
The burden of cancer has been on the increase over the past few decades. In 2012 alone, 8.2 million people worldwide were estimated to have died from cancer. More than two thirds of these deaths occurred in low- and middle- income countries.
The rise in the number of cases of cancer is due to ageing populations and the increasing adoption of risk behavior such as: consumption of unhealthy diets, lack of physical exercise, harmful use of alcohol and tobacco use. In the African Region, infections due to human papillomavirus and hepatitis B and C viruses significantly contribute to the burden of the top two cancers, namely cervical and liver cancer respectively.
Globally, cost-effective solutions such as vaccination, regular cancer screening, and proven therapies are available and within the reach of individuals, communities, governments and other stakeholders. Unfortunately, in Africa, access to these solutions is limited. There is also lack of awareness of the early signs and symptoms of cancer resulting in most people seeking medical help at a later stage when the disease is advanced and cure is not possible.
Many lives can be saved in our Region if appropriate investment is made in raising public awareness on the early signs and symptoms of common cancers. In addition people should adopt healthy lifestyles that reduce the risk of cancers.
As we commemorate World Cancer Day, I call upon African governments to scale up access to vaccines for cancer prevention, screening services for early detection of cancer and provision of treatment, and palliative care services. Development partners on the other hand should align their efforts and support governments to achieve their national cancer control objectives by supporting improved access to health care services and provision of adequate resources.
I urge Member States in the WHO African Region to ensure that their integrated Non Communicable Disease Action Plans address cancer prevention and control in a holistic and multisectoral manner. It is also vital that governments strengthen cancer surveillance and establish cancer registers.
The World Health Organization on its part will continue to support Member States’ in their cancer control efforts.