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Sub-Saharan Africa Lost Over 28,000 Children To Cancer In 2020 –WHO

(AFRICAN EXAMINER) – World Health Organization (WHO) has said that more than 28,000 children died of cancer in sub-Saharan Africa in 2020 amidst the COVID-19 pandemic.

WHO noted that drastic measures to prevent coronavirus spread, and heightened focus by health systems on response, led to disruptions in other essential health services on the continent.

Consequently, cancer screening and treatment, including for childhood cancers, were hit especially hard. Moreover, a WHO survey found screening was affected in 46 per cent of countries, while 13 per cent reported a more than 50 per cent disruption.

Noncommunicable Diseases Programme Coordinator at the WHO Regional Office, Dr. Jean-Marie Dangou said the statistics on death resulting from childhood cancer in Africa is profoundly heart-breaking.

“We estimate that more than 28,000 children died of cancer in sub-Saharan Africa in 2020. This is truly heartbreaking as childhood cancers are curable if detected early and comprehensive care provided. ”, he said.

“Substantial investment in cancer prevention and care, including quality training of medical professionals, must be made if we are to avert cancer deaths and cases, especially among children, in our region. As individuals, we must take the initiative to better understand the childhood cancer warning signs to improve early detection and treatment”, he said.

In Africa, according to the WHO, childhood cancer survival rate is currently around 20 percent, compared to more than 80 percent in high-income countries.

As early diagnosis improves chances of survival, United Nations (UN) agency stressed that significant improvements can be made in the lives of children with cancer by identifying the disease early and avoiding delays in care. 

The WHO has also fears that a significant backlog in screening and treatment due to the pandemic could lead to delayed diagnosis and treatment, noting that this would put further strain on Africa’s overburdened medical resources and increase avoidable cancer deaths.

Head of the Paediatric Oncology Unit at the Korle-Bu Teaching Hospital in Accra, Prof. Lorna Awo Renner said while 80 percent of childhood cancers are curable, “this is dependent on early detection and progressive treatment”.

She added that globally most children with cancer live in developing countries like Ghana, but only around 20 percent to 30 percent receive treatment, often due to cost. 

She further explained that cancer treatment is not covered under the National Health Insurance Scheme in Ghana, adding that the average cost to treat childhood cancer is about $1,000, and up to $7,000 for leukaemia, which is far beyond the reach of many citizens. 

“In Ghana, about 50 percent of patients used to abandon treatment halfway due to lack of funds. However, this figure has been reduced to 15 percent with support from a number of benevolent individuals and organizations”, she stressed.

Back in 2018, WHO announced a new Global Initiative for Childhood Cancers (GICC) and Ghana was among six countries selected to receive support for its implementation. 

One of the major strategic GICC partners is St Jude Children’s Research Hospital in the United States, whose financial support has helped improve childhood cancer care in Ghana, Senegal and Zambia.

WHO Representative in Ghana, Dr. Francis Kasolo observed that through effective and result-oriented collaboration the Government of Ghana, a sustainable national childhood cancer initiative has been developed with a view to redress the situation.

“Working closely with the Ghanaian government, we have helped to build and sustain a high quality national childhood cancer programme with a target of achieving at least 60 percent survival rate by 2030”, he added.

In addition, the UN agency has also provided technical support to health workers at Korle-Bu Teaching Hospital, in addition to monitoring and surveillance tools.


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