Cancer and tobacco are growing health concerns in Africa

Cancer and tobacco are growing health concerns in Africa

A number of Non Governmental Organisations hosted a media summit in Johannesburg on 23 June in order to assist journalists communicate lifesaving messaging about cancer and tobacco control in South Africa and the continent.

Speakers at the event “Fighting the Cancer and Tobacco Pandemic in Africa” were from the Cancer Association of South Africa (CANSA), the African Organisation for Research and Training in Cancer (AORTIC), the World Health Organization, the National Council Against Smoking, the Campaign for Tobacco Free Kids, and the American Cancer Society. Over 14 journalists attended from mostly South African media outlets as well as one journalist from Botswana and one from Tanzania.

“Cancer and tobacco control are growing problems in Africa,” said Dr Twalib Ngoma, President of AORTIC. “They need to be firmly on the health agendas in the African continent. If we don’t do something now, we will have an epidemic in 2030 that we can prevent today.” He hoped the media summit will lead to journalists joining the fight against cancer by raising awareness about cancer in general public, and among policy makers and health professionals.

Shocking statistics were presented including the fact that more than 80% of cancer patients in Africa are diagnosed very late and only palliative care is provided. With a population of 973 627 000, over 650 000 people are diagnosed with cancer in all of Africa every year. Dr Ngoma added that most African countries spend less than 6% of the gross national expenditure on health. While cancer is 8-10% of the disease burden, less than 0.1% of resources are allocated to cancer services.

In terms of tobacco, which is the biggest preventable cause of death worldwide, Africa has seen a 30% increase in tobacco consumption which is having dire consequences. South Africa is one of the few countries in Africa with anti-tobacco legislation in place.

Dr Ngoma said that cancer control in Africa faces huge challenges including: lack of recognition of cancer as a major public health issue; organizational obstacles to health care delivery; lack of treatment facilities; health care personnel and infrastructure shortages; cancer research is seen as a luxury; loss of health care professionals by migration; late presentation; poor resource allocation for cancer services; lack of willingness of donors to fund cancer services; limited use of distance learning and other creative approaches; and, lack of collaboration of stakeholders.

Sue Janse van Rensburg, CANSA National Executive Director, spoke on CANSA’s mission and services while Munnik Marais, also of CANSA, presented on Relay For Life, a community-based event that gathers survivors, caregivers, and supporters overnight to raise funds and awareness for cancer. Cancer Survivor and CANSA Relay For Life Mitchell’s Plain volunteer Eunice Saunders gave a moving account of her journey surviving cancer and how much Relay For Life means to her.

Other speakers at the summit included actress and breast cancer survivor Lillian Dube, Professor Lynette Denny, secretary treasurer of AORTIC and Professor of Obstetrics and Gynaecology, University of Cape Town, Dr Yussuf Saloojee, Executive Director of the National Council Against Smoking; Dr Jean- Marie Dangou, medical officer, Non-Communicable Disease Management-Cancer, WHO AFRO and Dr Twalib Ngoma, president of AORTIC and executive director of the Ocean Road Cancer Institute in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania.

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