February 4th is World Cancer Day, an initiative under which the entire world unites together in the fight against the global cancer epidemic. The day aims at saving the millions of preventable deaths by raising awareness and education about cancer, and pressing governments across the world to take action against the disease.
Owing to the projected increase in the global cancer burden of 75% by 2030, there is need to raise awareness about cancer, as has been done for HIV, and develop strategies to address the pandemic.
Whether cancer patients in Africa have the same prospects of support in their treatment as HIV patients is something that needs to be further discussed and February 4th is the best day to discuss this.
HIV positive patients in Africa and other low-income countries have been able to access disease modifying therapies including access to life-saving anti-retroviral therapies through programmes such as PEPFAR, the Clinton Foundation, Global Fund, just to mention but a few. Cancer treatment requires the selection of one or more interventions with a goal to cure the disease or considerably prolong quality life. Patients with cancer, unlike HIV infected patients have not been able to access the necessary care they deserve.
Access to prevention, early diagnosis, and treatment is extremely limited especially in Africa. Among the reasons for this are the damaging myths and misconceptions about cancer and lack of concerted advocacy for improved access to cancer care.
To many of us in Africa, cancer is taken as a death sentence not knowing that many cancers that were once considered a death sentence can now be effectively treated. In high-income countries of the world, advances in understanding risk and prevention, early detection and treatment have revolutionized the management of cancer leading to improved outcomes for patients.
Cancer patients in Africa should not lose hope, as there are specific interventions to address the current global challenges. Among such interventions is the WHO launch of its Non communicable Diseases Action Plan in 2008. Together with the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), and other UN organizations and partners, WHO is responding by increasing political commitment for cancer programmes, research, education, and the development of standards and tools to guide planning and implementation of interventions for prevention, early detection, treatment and care.
Access to effective care medicines remains a serious hindrance. The Glivec® International Patient Assistance Program (GIPAP) through The Max Foundation is the only comprehensive and far-reaching cancer access programme ever developed on a global scale to support cancer patients in developing countries, including Uganda.
This programme provides Glivec (imatinib), a medicine for treating chronic myelogeous leukemia (CML) free of cost to eligible patients who meet specific medical and socio-economic guidelines. Through this programme many patients with CML have been able to live free of disease contrary to what was known before.
In conclusion, cancer patients in Africa do not have the same prospects of support as HIV patients in their treatment. However, there are chances that care for cancer patients will soon improve through the dispelling of damaging myths and misconceptions about cancer through awareness raising and education.