Friday, May 11, 2007

Cancer in Africa

Yesterday and today see a major conference in London on cancer in Africa.

We see so many reports on "African" illnesses - malaria, HIV/Aids, malnutrition, guinea worm etc etc - it is easy to forget that people who live on this continent are just as prone to cancer as people in the "developed" world.

Kezia's story might even be considered typical - to a point. Born in Africa, growing up in Africa, seriously sick but no means available to diagnose what is wrong and even if there were, no resources to treat her leukaemia. She was lucky - her dad is British and had the resources to get her back to the UK for diagnosis and treatment. Otherwise she would be dead.

The University of Oxford's Africa-Oxford Cancer Consortium (AfrOx), set up by Professor David Kerr has organised the conference along with the International Atomic Energy Agency's Programme of Action for Cancer Therapy.

The Cancer Control in Africa conference brings together health ministers or their representatives from 22 African countries, donors, healthcare professionals, the pharmaceutical industry, cancer charities, research organisations and others aiming to begin creating an action plan for cancer control in Africa.

As David Kerr says "People don’t perceive cancer as a developing-world problem, but more than 70 per cent of all cancer deaths occur in low and middle income countries ... This figure is rising due to increased life expectancy, increased tobacco use and chronic viral infection. Survival rates for cancer in the developing world are often less than half those of more developed countries, and there is little pain relief. In Africa, cancer is a sentence to a painful and distressing death."

Mirroring yesterday's post on access to cancer drugs David Kerr announced in an interview with last Sunday's

Observer that exploratory talks had begun with GlaxoSmithKline (GSK), about how to make its new vaccine for cervical cancer, Cervarix, available in Africa. The vaccine, Cervarix, is not yet available in Britain on the NHS!

Photo: Child with a tumour in the jaw due to Burkitt’s lymphoma cancer. Credit: Dr MA Ansary/Science Photo Library.

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