World Health Organization

The number of cancer cases in Africa has doubled in the past 20 years, the Regional Director of the World Health Organisation (WHO), Matshidiso Moeti, has said.

Ms Moeti in a message to commemorate the World Cancer Day (WCD) said new cancer cases in the region has increased from 338,000 cases reported in 2002 to almost 846,000 cases in 2020.

“Over the past 20 years, new cancer cases have more than doubled in the African Region, from 338,000 cases reported in 2002 to almost 846,000 cases in 2020,” Ms Moeti said.

She said the most common forms of cancer ravaging the region include breast, cervix, prostate, bowel, colon, rectum and liver.

“The risk factors include older age and family history, use of tobacco and alcohol, a diet high in sugar, salt and fat, physical inactivity, being overweight, and exposure to specific chemicals, among others,” she said.

The World Cancer Day, celebrated on February 4 every year, is an initiative of the Union for International Cancer Control (UICC) and is marked by countries all around the world.

The day aims to save millions of preventable deaths each year by raising awareness about cancer and putting pressure on governments and individuals across the world to take action against the disease.

The theme for this year’s WCD is “I am and I will,” marking the end point of a three-year campaign which sought to reduce fear, increase understanding and change behaviours and attitudes around cancer.

Cancer in Nigeria

Data from the Global Cancer Observatory (GCO) shows that 124,815 new cases of cancer were recorded in Nigeria in 2020 alone and over 78,000 cancer-related deaths.

This is a slight increase from the estimated 116,000 new cases of cancer and 41,000 cancer-related deaths recorded in the country in 2018, according to the WHO.

Cancer is one of the leading causes of death worldwide as new cases and deaths from the disease keep rising.


In Nigeria, the painful disease has continued to claim many lives due to high cost and inadequate radiotherapy treatment which has been the bane of cancer patients.

The COVID-19 pandemic which has disrupted lots of other health services has further contributed to the plights of cancer patients in the country.

Africa region

According to Ms Moeti, many African communities have limited access to cancer screening and early detection, diagnosis and treatment.

She noted that only about 30 per cent of African children diagnosed with cancer survive, compared to 80 per cent of children in high-income economies.

She explained that the rising cancer burden will place additional pressures on resource-constrained health systems and on patients and their families who incur catastrophic costs to access services.

“Challenges in access to cancer care are further compounded in times of crisis, like the current COVID-19 pandemic,” She said.

The Regional Director also noted that the African Region bears the highest burden of cervical cancer among WHO regions.

She said the World Health Assembly’s adoption in 2020 of the Global strategy to accelerate the elimination of cervical cancer as a public health problem was of key relevance to African countries.

“As part of the first wave countries implementing this strategy, Eswatini, Guinea, Malawi, Rwanda, Uganda and Zambia are scaling-up comprehensive cervical cancer programmes,” Ms Moeti said.

She appealed to African leaders to introduce the Human Papillomavirus (HPV) vaccine needed to boost prevention of cervical cancer.

“So far 17 African countries have introduced HPV vaccination nationwide, including Rwanda and Zimbabwe, who are both achieving high national HPV vaccine coverage with the commitment of their governments and partners,” she said.

She said provision of cancer services, including pain relief, should be integrated in benefits packages and social insurance schemes as part of efforts towards achieving Universal Health Coverage.

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