By Pascal Kwesiga and Violet Nabatanzi
The World Health Organization (WHO) has called on government to scale up cancer prevention and treatment programs to save millions of lives from the fast growing cancer burden.
The WHO regional director, Dr. Luis Gomes Sambo, in a statement released on World cancer day that was marked on Wednesday, said that every year, nearly eight million people die of cancer but many of these deaths can be avoided with greater public awareness, increased government support and funding for prevention, detection and treatment.
“Cancer is not a disease affecting the affluent and elderly people, and developed countries alone. It is a global epidemic, affecting all ages, in low, middle and high income countries,” Sambo said. The day was marked on the theme “Dispel damaging myths and misconceptions about cancer”.
The number of cancer cases and related deaths worldwide, Sambo said is expected to double over the next 20-30 years, with African countries being the most affected by the cancer burden yet they are the least capable of coping with the challenges presented by the disease.
Misinformation, myths, misconceptions and prejudices about cancer, the WHO regional chief said are major obstacles to effective cancer control and treatment.
“Stigma and discrimination associated with cancer prevent people from being open about the disease and this is an impediment to prevention, early detection and treatment,” he noted.
However, he observed that millions of lives can be saved each year if effective preventive and management measures and accurate cancer information is provided to the public.
“We must strengthen and scale up progress made on tobacco control, address other risk factors such as physical inactivity, poor diet and the harmful use of alcohol,” Sambo added.
Although African governments have made efforts to address the burden of cancer in the region, he said there must be efforts to developing and implementing national cancer control plans, strengthen the health workforce and establish cancer surveillance systems.
He called on governments and donors to allocate adequate resources for cancer control and to scale up community-based interventions, before stressing that everyone has a role to play to debunk all prejudices, preconceptions and myths about cancer.
The health minister Ruhakana Rugunda asked the people to embrace free cancer screening available at public health facilities. “We should take cancer as a serious matter and immunize our children against some cancers like cervical cancer and ensure that we have regular medical examination,” he added.