BY MARGARET KENYATTA
It is undisputed that matters of health are key to the development of any country. Many African countries have in the last decade made great strides in achieving certain health goals that have realized improved outcomes for their citizens. Across the region, we have seen reduced rates of HIV infections and AIDS -related deaths.
We have seen some countries achieve improved maternal and child health indicators, and this is indeed cause for celebration.
But even as we celebrate these achievements, it is important to take note of yet another silent killer that is threatening to reverse our development gains. This is cancer, a disease that at a global level, kills more people than HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria combined.
There is no doubt that cancer is an emerging public health problem that cannot be ignored. The effects are particularly worse in developing countries; yet, cancer is a disease that is highly preventable and curable if detected early.
70 per cent of cancers in sub-Saharan are discovered at a time when the disease is at an advanced stage, when it’s too late for cure.
High unawareness levels about cancer risk and prevention, combined with lack of screening and diagnostic equipment, radiotherapy, chemotherapy and surgical options further compound the problem. And even when these services are available, they are only affordable by those in the higher economic echelons of society.
With effective awareness and education programs, cancer morbidity and mortality rates can indeed be reduced. One of the major challenges for African countries is that they are under-resourced and ill-equipped to deal with the growing cancer burden. In addition, government health budgets place more emphasis on communicable diseases such as malaria, tuberculosis and HIV/AIDS, leaving little or nothing to diseases such as cancer.
The problem partly lies in low awareness levels among policy makers, the general public, the private sector, the NGO world, the donor community and other stakeholders on the magnitude of the cancer burden and its effect on the economic growth and development of a country.
However, some African governments have made some efforts to deal with the growing cancer problem, they only need to boost these efforts and share best practices with countries that may not have embarked on similar efforts.
It is also important to note that governments cannot do this alone. The war against cancer requires a combined effort of all stakeholders -international and regional organizations, public health agencies, the donor community, Non-Governmental organizations, Civil Society Organizations, corporate organizations, the private sector and other stakeholders to give higher priority to cancer awareness, education, prevention, screening, treatment, palliative care and research.
There is a significant role that every entity can play in ensuring there is a substantially reduced cancer burden in every country. The achievement of this lies in sustained partnerships among all players.
The realization of improved cancer outcomes is however not limited to the government and its stakeholders. Part of the cancer problem is because of our unhealthy lifestyles; It is our responsibility to take care of our own bodies.
I have personally committed to reducing Kenya’s health burden through among others, the Beyond Zero campaign, and I am seeing to it that breast and cervical cancer information and screening is given to women through mobile clinics spread across the country. I thank all the partners and donors who continue to help me in this endeavour.
As part of my campaign activities, my office with the support of the Kenyan government and in conjunction with Princess Nikky Breast Cancer Foundation will from today host the 9th Stop Cervical Breast and Prostate Cancer in Africa Conference (SCCA), whose theme is: “Investing to save lives: The Role of Public-Private Sector Partnerships”.
The conference will bring together First Ladies, parliamentarians, ministers of health, health professionals, scientists, cancer advocates, corporate entities and other relevant stakeholders.
This conference builds on the success of last year’s convention which was held in Namibia and which culminated in the Windhoek declaration that re-affirmed Africa’s commitment towards the sustained fight against cancer.
This year’s conference will serve as a platform for discourse on the emerging cancer problem in Africa, and will also act as a learning and sharing opportunity for participants. We expect to establish realistic strategies and action points that will produce cost effective solutions for the continent, which will work towards the reducing the number of cancer cases and deaths, as well as improve the quality of life for those afflicted with the disease.
It is my hope that the dialogues and partnerships formed in the 9th SCCA conference will result in saving the lives of millions of men, women and children in Africa. As part of the endeavour to fight cancer through early detection, I urge you all to participate in the free screening activities that will be on offer at the KICC, as part of the SCCA activities. Together, we can beat cancer through formidable partnerships.
(The author is the First Lady of the Republic of Kenya)