One in two people will develop cancer at some point in their lives. Cancer has become the second-leading cause of death in the world, with 70% of cancer deaths occurring in low-to-middle income countries like The Gambia. Cancer also carries a heavy global economic toll estimated at US$1.16 trillion per annum.
Cancer can be caused by a number of different risk factors. While some risk factors cannot be controlled, such as age and genetics, around one-third of cancer cases are preventable through reducing dietary, lifestyle and behavioural risks. These raise the need for effective actions through country-specific plans to reduce and prevent cancer, but unfortunately such programmes are disproportionately underfunded.
Incredible advancements in cancer screening, early detection and treatments mean that more patients with cancer are living longer. Yet, cancer survivors face physical and financial problems associated with cancer treatment as well as psychological and emotional burdens. Cancer recurrence is also a risk.
This year’s theme for World Cancer Day marked on 4th February, is “Close the Care Gap”. Half of the world’s population lacks access to essential health services, creating an equity gap based on socioeconomics, demographics, age, race, gender and disabilities. Disadvantaged groups are more likely to have increased exposures to modifiable risk factors, delayed diagnoses and limited access to the best cancer treatments and support.
In an Op-Ed co-authored by health minister Dr Ahmadou Samateh and Mr Mukul Bhola, chief executive officer of The Defeat-NCD Partnership at the United Nations Institute for Training and Research on Page 9 of this copy of The Standard, it is revealed that The Gambia reported 1,400 new cancer cases in 2021 and 1,035 cases in 2020, with a mortality rate of 78% owed to the absence of awareness, late diagnosis, and unavailability of specialised treatment and facilities in the country.
Medical experts say early detection and effective, timely cancer treatment can significantly reduce mortality. When identified early, cancer is more likely to respond to treatment and can result in a greater probability of survival and less morbidity, as well as less expensive treatment. Providing access to quality cancer treatment and care has been a great challenge to most low resource countries like ours. The gaps in terms of knowledge, access, and cost between high and low resource countries are increasing especially with increased innovation and technology introduced in cancer diagnosis, treatment and in palliative care.
It is heartening to know from the write-up that The Gambia has “a comprehensive plan to establish a cancer treatment specialised department to reduce the burden of the diseases on our and build the national capacity to provide quality treatment and care”.
We join our voice today to call on all stakeholders and urge governments to take action to close the overwhelming gaps leading to high cancer mortality across the world. Sustained political support and investment for cancer care is urgently needed.