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Africa to Intensify Cancer Control Through Cancer Registries

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Keeping a cancer registry is essential for comprehensive cancer control in Africa. (D.Calma/IAEA)

Collecting patients’ data in a comprehensive national registry is key to improved and effective cancer care in Africa. This was the main conclusion of a recent workshop held in Brazzaville, Republic of the Congo. The workshop brought together health authorities and cancer control experts from 19 francophone African countries. With developing regions accounting for almost 70% of all cancer-related deaths, African experts are working to tackle the disease in a holistic manner.

“We need to understand the size of the cancer problem and how it’s developing,” said Charles Gombé Mbalawa, Director General of the National Institute for Research in Health Sciences in Brazzaville, and the workshop’s host. “And we need to know the extent to which we are successful at dealing with it.”

The workshop was co-organized by the IAEA, the World Health Organization’s Regional Office for Africa (WHO-AFRO), the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), the African Cancer Registry Network and the Republic of the Congo.

Cancer registries compile and provide information on the number of new cancer cases, in addition to the total number of cancer cases, as well as death and survival rates, and where cancer patients are located. With this data, policymakers can more effectively plan services, from prevention campaigns to treatment for cancer patients.

“In low and middle-income countries, there is no vital health statistics system that we can fall back on, so cancer registries are often the only source of information available,” said Max Parkin, a cancer registry expert and Coordinator of the African Cancer Registry Network.

The workshop in Brazzaville was an excellent opportunity to exchange experiences among African countries at different stages in cancer registry development, Gombé Mbalawa said. Participants shared best practices in cancer control and gathered a number of recommendations to take back to their governments, such as ensuring consistent follow-up after diagnosis and treatment to obtain cancer survival data, assessing the impact of screening and early detection programmes, strengthening capacities in cancer registration to consolidate progress made during the workshop and creating more opportunities for collaboration between cancer registries in Africa.

The event was valuable in that it brought cancer registry technicians and health authorities into contact, two groups that often coexist without necessarily appreciating the challenges they share or the opportunities for synergy, Parkin said.

Delegates discuss the importance of cancer registries in Africa at a meeting co-organized by the IAEA in Brazzaville, Republic of the Congo. (Photo: D. Calma/IAEA)

New Health Challenges

Non-communicable diseases —including cancer— have become more prominent in Africa over the last decade, as a result of longer life expectancy due to improved health care and changes in lifestyle. According to IARC, by 2030 1.4 million new cancer cases and 1 million deaths are foreseen in Africa. Reducing the cancer burden will require significant long-term investments and commitments, especially as countries plan to establish and upgrade radiotherapy facilities.

“Cancer registration is essential for cancer control and something that can no longer be neglected in sub-Saharan Africa,” said Jean-Marie Dangou, Regional Adviser for Cancer Prevention and Control at the WHO’s Regional Office for Africa. “Governments, together with partners from the international health community, should train experts to strengthen existing registries and establish new ones. Registries are essential for compiling and analysing the data, and making it available to researchers and policy makers.”

The IAEA supports countries in the region in developing and implementing comprehensive cancer control plans. It assists them in optimizing the investments made in cancer control through imPACT Reviews. Then, following these reviews, the IAEA can help countries enhance capacities in cancer control through its technical cooperation programme. This includes providing expert advice or equipment for cancer treatment and diagnosis as well as the relevant training, according to Mulugeta Amha, Section Head at the IAEA Division of Technical Cooperation for Africa.

“There is a direct link between cancer registry data and decision-making,” said Beatrix Lahoupe, Section Head at the IAEA’s Programme of Action for Cancer Therapy (PACT). “Governments and health authorities must clearly and reliably know how many cancer patients in a country require what kind of treatment when deciding about important long term investments, such as the establishment of a radiotherapy centre. That way, a country’s investments in radiation medicine will be used in an optimal way.”

Several governments have realized the importance of evidence-based planning of services and human resources, she added. Currently, 22 countries in Africa have established cancer registries.

A similar workshop is planned to be held for anglophone African countries before the end of the year.

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