Improving cancer care in East Africa is extremely essential

07Jan 2020
The Guardian
Improving cancer care in East Africa is extremely essential

Cancer is a group of diseases involving abnormal cell growth with the potential to invade or spread to other parts of the body. These contrast with benign tumors, which do not spread.

Possible signs and symptoms include a lump, abnormal bleeding, prolonged cough, unexplained weight loss, and a change in bowel movements.  While these symptoms may indicate cancer, they can also have other causes.  Over 100 types of cancers affect humans.

Tobacco use is the cause of about 22 per cent of cancer deaths.  Another 10 per cent are due to obesity, poor diet, lack of physical activity or excessive drinking of alcohol.  Other factors include certain infections, exposure to ionizing radiation and environmental pollutants.  In the developing world, 15 per cent of cancers are due to infections such as Helicobacter pylori, hepatitis B, hepatitis C.

Approximately 5–10 per cent of cancers are due to inherited genetic defects from a person's parents.  Cancer can be detected by certain signs and symptoms or screening tests. Many cancers can be prevented by not smoking, maintaining a healthy weight, not drinking too much alcohol, eating plenty of vegetables, fruits and whole grains, vaccination against certain infectious diseases, not eating too much processed and red meat and avoiding too much sunlight exposure.  Early detection through screening is useful for cervical and colorectal cancer. The benefits of screening in breast cancer are controversial.  The chance of survival depends on the type of cancer and extent of disease at the start of treatment.  In children under 15 at diagnosis, the five-year survival rate in the developed world is on average 80 per cent.

In 2015, about 90.5 million people had cancer.  About 14.1 million new cases occur a year (not including skin cancer other than melanoma).  It caused about 8.8 million deaths (15.7 per cent of deaths).  The most common types of cancer in males are lung cancer, prostate cancer, colorectal cancer and stomach cancer.  In females, the most common types are breast cancer, colorectal cancer, lung cancer and cervical cancer.

Tanzanian  and   two partners, the Aga Khan Health Services and the French Development Agency, on last year signed a 13.3 million Euros (about 14.8 million U.S. dollars) grant agreement and Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) to improve cancer care in the East African nation.

The funding will be run by the Tanzania Comprehensive Cancer Project (TCCP), an innovative public-private project aimed at enhancing cancer care in Tanzania.

Under this funding, the French Development Agency will release a grant to the tune of 10 million Euros and 3.3 million Euros will be contributed by the Geneva-based Aga Khan Foundation, which is part of the Aga Khan Development Network (AKDN).

Speaking shortly after the signing of the agreement in the commercial capital Dar es Salaam, Tanzania's Deputy Minister for Health Faustine Ndugulile said with the rise in the prevalence of cancer in Tanzania, the project will serve to accelerate performance in cancer screening, prevention and early detection targeting low-income groups through mobile outreach campaigns.

Harrison Chuwa, a consultant oncologist at the Aga Khan hospital in Dar es Salaam and director of TCCP, said the project was a four-year plan designed to reduce the burden of cancer mortality and morbidity in Dar es Salaam and Mwanza regions.

Chuwa said under the project, the implementing partners will create an integrated health care network at local and hospital levels to accelerate performance in cancer care in the country.

Julius Mwaiselage, the executive director of the Ocean Road Cancer Institute, the country's leading facility for treating cancer patients, said the facility was currently receiving 64,000 cancer patients annually, compared to 30,000 patients received in 2015