Kenya’s First Lady Margaret Kenyatta has taken up the mantle to lead the fight against cancer on the African continent under the auspices of the Forum of African First Ladies and Spouses against Cervical, Breast and Prostate Cancer (SCCA). Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta has been named the Goodwill Ambassador for the period 2015-2016 to champion the efforts of the first ladies at the African Union, the largest African decision-making body.
The SCCA conference comes to Kenya as an effective platform to aid in the fight against breast, prostate and cervical cancer.
“Sadly, the statistics around cancer are quite grim with Africans now having some of the highest cervical cancer incidences and mortality rates worldwide and the challenge that we face is immense,” said First Lady Kenyatta.
Mrs. Kenyatta underscored that despite the challenge being immense, Africa now has a great opportunity to do more through early screening and treatment of cancers.
“We want to build on the successes we have made and head in the right direction through unity with all stakeholders. As Chairperson of the Forum of African First Ladies and Spouses against Cervical, Breast and Prostate Cancer, I want to assure you of my commitment to lobby for adequate human, technical and financial resources,” added Mrs. Kenyatta.
The key to achieving the said goals lies in increases of available technology that will help achieve universal access to screening, treatment and care for cervical, breast and prostate cancer patients.
The First Lady stressed that her office, in collaboration with the Ministry of Health in Kenya, will work with other stakeholders such as religious, traditional and community leaders as well as civil society organizations and the media, to educate and inform the public on cancer.
President Uhuru Kenyatta while opening the conference spoke of the opportunity that health stakeholders have been afforded by the meeting to look for solutions for cancer management in Africa.
“Cancer has become a public health issue that we can no longer ignore. All of us, either personally, amongst our friends and family know the experience and effects of cancer. The cancer burden in developing countries now accounts for about 70% of all cancer deaths. It is estimated that of the African region’s 804 million inhabitants, 12.4% will develop cancer before the age of 75 and that 90% of these cancer cases will occur after the age of 40,” said the President.
The World Cancer Report of 2014, issued by the World Health Organization’s International Agency for Research on Cancer, gives alarming statistics on the number of new cancer cases, indicating that they have reached an all-time high and are still on the rise. In Kenya alone, the situation is unsettling with 3000 new cases of cervical cancer being diagnosed every year and half of this resulting in death due to late diagnosis.
“The situation is aggravated by lack of information and weak early detection capacities in our countries; hence, most people discover they have cancer at its advanced stages. Worse still, most cancer patients in Africa have limited access to treatment, palliative care or even pain relief,” reiterated President Kenyatta.
In Africa, cancer has not been at the top of the continent’s health agenda, given competing health priorities. Health systems have in the past heavily focused on managing infectious diseases. However, with the increase of non-communicable diseases, we now bear a double burden of communicable and non-communicable diseases.
“A much greater commitment to cancer prevention strategies is now required, as few countries can meet the staggering costs of cancer research and treatment. More importantly, we should focus on stopping people from dying unnecessarily. The key to saving lives is prevention and early diagnosis,” said President Kenyatta.
We must ensure communities are better informed about cancer and the benefits of lifestyle changes. If people gave up smoking, ate healthy food, drank less alcohol, and exercised regularly, we could prevent over 40 percent of cancers. It is equally clear to us that we ought also to work with the media to dispel myths and misconceptions about cancer among our people, as well as to raise public awareness on the importance of screening and early detection, thus increasing the prospects of successful treatment,” he added.
The conference attended by 12 first ladies and approximately 4,000 delegates, discussed support for development of sustainable and comprehensive anti-breast, cervical and prostate cancer strategies and mobilize resources to fight various cancers.