A message from Dr. Mark Jacobson, the Director of the Foundation for Cancer Care in Tanzania
Cancer is the huge new epidemic facing Africa. Better control of acute infections and immunizations has led to an aging population at risk for cancer. Life styles have changed leading to obesity and lack of physical activity. Thirty-three percent of cancers in Africa are associated with underlying infections with many HIV related cancers, HPV related cervical cancer, and hepatitis viruses giving rise to hepatic cancer. The epidemiology of the continent has changed dramatically in the last decade.
The medical response to this new epidemic can be described as three pillars of care: Prevention – Early Diagnosis and Treatment – Palliative Care. Unfortunately, Africa and Tanzania have very limited capacity to build upon any of these pillars. Prevention in terms of lifestyle is in its infancy. Prevention by controlling the spread of HIV and HPV is underway but extremely expensive. Screening and early diagnosis have great obstacles as screening is expensive, few are trained, and even recognizing and referring cancer patients is blocked by costs, distances, and few care centers. Diagnoses are delayed and shame and stigma prevent people from seeking care. Over 80% of patients with cancer report in very late stages and Palliative care becomes the only option for them.
Treatment is extremely limited. Less than half of the countries in Africa have access to radiation therapy. While Tanzania is blessed with the Ocean Road Cancer Institute, access to cancer care is available for less than 1% of the population needing such care with this one center to serve a population of nearly 45 million.
Developing a new cancer therapy unit in northern Tanzania will profoundly improve the situation for the thousands of Tanzanians who simply cannot travel to the far away capital of Dar es Salaam. Greater access to care, together with meaningful preventive strategies and palliative care offer great hope to the otherwise hopeless cancer situation in northern Tanzania.