Cancer a Major Health Threat That Is Overlooked in Africa

Cancer is a dreaded disorder that has affected many people around the world, or at least someone that they know. It is a major focus of medical discussions in developed countries but less so in developing ones, such as those in Africa.



Cancer is a general term for a group of conditions that are characterized by abnormal cell growth in the body. Cells grow out of control and can spread to other areas in the body, depriving other cells of much-needed nutrients and room.

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These disorders can develop for a variety of reasons. They could be a result of mutations in cells. Some develop from viral infections – an example is Kaposi’s sarcoma.

Cancer is a global problem. It is a leading cause of death. However, it sometimes appears to be less of an issue in Africa, even though this is not the case.

Not a problem for Africa?

Research in African tends to focus more on tropical diseases, such as malaria. However, little is done in cancer research, including finding effective treatments. This might suggest that Africans do not get the dreaded disorder.

But non-communicable diseases, especially cancer, account for more deaths in developing countries than medical disorders more commonly linked to Africa, Adrienne Edkins stated in a Science in Africa article.

More than 50 percent of about 8 million cancer deaths reported in 2008 happened in developing countries around the world. It is feared that the proportion of deaths would increase to more than two-thirds in the following two decades.

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The risk of dying from certain cancers is believed to be higher in many countries in Africa, compared to the U.S. or the U.K. This is despite the existence of improved treatment and prevention strategies.

Kaposi’s sarcoma is one of the cancer types that seems to affect more people in Africa. It is more common among people with AIDS, caused by the human herpesvirus 8 (HHV8).

Breast cancer is another form that affects significant populations in Africa. According to estimates, more than 50 percent of associated deaths occur in the developing world. Research also shows that Black women tend to develop more aggressive and difficult to treat form of this disorder called triple-negative breast cancer.

Experts believe that these figures might not even reveal the full extent of the problem.

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What’s to blame for the dearth of research?

It is not very common to hear calls for donations to support cancer research in Africa. While it might seem like some efforts are being made in a few countries, there is always inadequate funding to support research for meaningful findings or discoveries.

African countries are mostly considered poor. But this does not always explain low funding for cancer research. It can be argued that a low priority accorded it in countries like South Africa contributes to minimal funding.

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There is also limited cancer research in Africa because international funding is practically not available for it. Most bodies, including the Gates Foundation, make funding more available for tropical or communicable diseases. They rarely support African scientists to carry out cancer research.

A report by the World Health Organization (WHO) revealed that more than half of the countries worldwide do not have the needed infrastructure or provide sufficient funding for the prevention, diagnosis, and treatment of cancer. However, it failed to speak to the need for more special funding for research into cancer in Africa.

Qualified people to carry out research are not lacking. Poor infrastructures and limited funding are mainly what hinder the research. More needs to be done to bring African scientists on board in the search for a cure for cancer.

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