Over 2,000 die of cancer every year in Sierra Leone

Dr Brima Kargbo, CMO

By Kemo Cham

A United Nations experts’ investigation has revealed a worrying trend of cancer prevalence in Sierra Leone, with an annual death rate of over 2, 000 people.

The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) say estimated 3,000 people develop cancer each year in the country which lacks the capacity and resources to diagnose or provide care for victims. Much of the cancer cases in the country are preventable or curable if discovered early, the agency said as part of the findings of an assessment conducted last month.

Cancer refers to a group of diseases that result from abnormal growth of body cells. Some of these are caused by nuclear radiation.

The IAEA, the UN agency that coordinates global efforts to ensure cooperation in the nuclear field, seeks to promote the safe, secure and peaceful use of nuclear technologies in this regard. In December an IAEA team embarked on a mission to review Sierra Leone’s cancer control capacity at the request of the government with the goal of providing recommendations ahead of the creation of a national cancer control strategy.

The mission, known as imPACT reviews, is usually the first step a member state is expected to take to understand the scope of its cancer burden, which is crucial in the development of a national cancer control strategy.

The delegation, comprising international cancer experts drawn from the IAEA, the World Health Organization, and the International Agency for Research on Cancer, visited both public and private healthcare facilities, medical schools and met with health organizations to assess the key areas of cancer control: prevention, early diagnosis, treatment and palliative care along with cancer planning, data collection and the safe application of radiation medicine with regard to health workers and patients.

The findings reveal that majority of cancer patients in Sierra Leone seek medical attention when their illness is far advanced or at an incurable stage because of limited access to early diagnostic services.

They experts also found that there were no radiotherapy services in the country and that the provision of other modalities of cancer treatment, such as surgical oncology or chemotherapy, was hampered by a severe lack of human resources and medical equipment.

“This limited access to cancer care services, including qualified staff, means that patients have poor chances of survival if they develop the disease,” the IAEA said.

It is hoped that the experts’ recommendations will guide the government in its effort to prioritize cancer control interventions which will include facilitating collaboration among the relevant organizations involved in the sector.

The experts also recommended development of a comprehensive cancer control plan, including necessary palliative services with relevant training for health care professionals to make sure patients receive effective pain relief.

Breast and cervical cancers top the list as the most prevalent cancer diseases in Sierra Leone.

The imPACT Assessment tour of the IAEA experts was part of the Sierra Leone government’s renewed drive to strengthen its cancer control programme to meet the growing demands of citizens suffering from the illness, according to the Ministry of Health.

In line with this, the government is also set to deploy for the first time a radiotherapy and nuclear medicine service in the country with support from the IAEA.

Sierra Leone’s Chief Medical Officer, Dr Brima Kargbo, categorized cancer as a public health emergency and stressed the government’s commitment to deploying the required resources to address the situation.

He also spoke about the need for a national cancer control steering committee to develop the national cancer control plan.

“Cancer is one of the leading causes of death in the country and must be treated as a public health emergency, like any other disease concerning the public’s health,” he said, adding: “We must immediately establish the necessary structures to address this as a priority.”
Politico  10 March 2017

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