Why survival of breast cancer victims is low in Sub-Saharan Africa, by WHO
World Health Organisation (WHO) has warned that preventing and treating breast cancer remains a pressing public wellness issue in Sub-Saharan Africa.
In a report published, yesterday, and titled, “Addressing inequities in breast cancer treatment in Sub-Saharan Africa: Insights from a breast cancer surgeon in Nairobi,” WHO noted: “Breast cancer survival rates five years after diagnosis stand at a dismal 40 per cent in Sub-Saharan Africa compared to over 90 per cent in most high-income countries.”
The global health agency said in countries showing a successful reduction in mortalities, most patients were diagnosed at an early stage.
It noted that late diagnosis and poor access to quality treatment were worsening the situation.
Highlighting the barriers to effective treatment in the region, a surgical oncologist in Nairobi, Kenya, Dr. Miriam Mutebi, said: “A few years back, a patient was diagnosed with breast cancer and had begun her chemotherapy treatment when she suddenly disappeared. She came back after six months overjoyed that she had finally saved up enough money for the remaining treatment. The local National Hospital Insurance Fund (NHIF) has helped considerably to increase the number of patients completing care, but more needs to be done to provide comprehensive coverage.”
Mutebi said paying out of pocket to access care routinely results in catastrophic health costs and financial hardship for families – leading to treatment delays.
According to the report, socio-cultural barriers further limit access to treatment in Sub-Saharan Africa, adding: “Women often lack agency to seek healthcare on their own. This situation is worsened by cancer myths and widespread stigma.
“A number of cancer patients are abandoned by their partners or families after receiving a diagnosis because of stigma.”
WHO Global Breast Cancer Initiative (GBCI) is striving to address barriers in early cancer diagnosis through its first pillar: Health promotion and early detection.
Mutebi went on: The initiative’s second pillar is to ensure timely diagnosis.”
To ensure timely referrals, health workers must be trained to identify symptoms, she added.