The fight against cancers that hit women in Africa especially hard because of late diagnosis received a significant boost with the launch of a new partnership between the World Health Organisation and the International Federation of Pharmaceutical Manufacturers and Associations (IFPMA) on Wednesday.
A statement from the IFPMA said the new partnership, launched at the World Economic Forum’s Africa meeting (being held in the Rwandan capital from May 11-13), will work to improve awareness and to help empower women and health-care professionals to improve prevention, screening and treatment rates of breast and cervical cancers.
The IFPMA, which represents research-based pharmaceutical companies and associations across the globe, said cancer was an emerging public health problem throughout Africa. The association – which represents the industry whose 1.3 million employees research, develop and provide medicines and vaccines – added that late diagnosis was making its toll that much higher.
In sub-Saharan Africa, for example, the incidence of cervical cancer and breast cancer is no higher than in other parts of the world, but the risk of death among women with either disease is much higher than in high-income countries – eight times higher in the case of cervical cancer. This is because many African women are diagnosed late, which hampers effective treatment and care. In sub-Saharan Africa, 22.5 per 100 000 women die from cervical cancer, compared to 2.5 per 100 000 women in North America.
Dr Abdikamal Alisalad, acting director for non-communicable diseases at the WHO’s regional office for Africa, said many lives could be saved if public awareness about the importance of testing and early treatment was strengthened.
He added: “There are many obstacles to cervical cancer screening in resource-constrained countries, generally attributed to the lack of infrastructure as well as technical, medical and financial resources, and a lack of awareness and education on cervical cancer among women and health-care providers.”
Supported by some funding and in-kind contributions from IFPMA, the partnership will implement cancer prevention and control activities in four countries with a high burden of cervical cancer – Cameroon, Uganda, Swaziland and Zambia – in collaboration with the respective ministries of health.
In addition, the partnership will work with health-care providers to improve knowledge about screening strategies.
Eduardo Pisani, IFPMA’s director general, said: “Partnerships are the way forward when dealing with complex challenges such as those posed by non-communicable diseases. Working across sectors enables partners to generate health outcomes that are transformational, hence sustainable.”
Commenting on the need to strengthen public-private partnerships such as this one, Dr Bente Mikkelsen, of the WHO global co-ordinating mechanism on non-communicable diseases, said: “There is an urgent need to scale up the multiple contributions from the diverse range of private sector entities for the prevention and control of non-communicable diseases at national level, while effectively safeguarding public health interests from undue influence by any form of real, perceived or potential conflict of interest.”
She added: “This is a concrete example of how governments can work with the private sector to realise their commitments on non-communicable diseases as outlined and promised through high-level political declarations.”