The Role of African Union (AU) in the Fight Against Cancers in Africa

Published on 7th August 2018

Non-communicable diseases, under which cancers are classified have become a major public health challenge in Africa. This has resulted in a need to shift from a health system that has focused primarily on communicable disease to one that has to pay equal attention to non-communicable disease with some urgency.

Universal Access to primary health care is a pre-requisite, if the Africa Union Agenda 2063, Africa’s strategic framework for the socio-economic transformation of our continent, in its Aspiration to guarantee African Citizens’ a prosperous Africa, based on Inclusive Growth and Sustainable Development with healthy and well-nourished citizens is to be realised.

In order to advance and improve primary health care, the African Union Commission is advocating for increased number of community healthcare workers through the “Two Million Community Health Workers Initiative.” Raising community awareness and community involvement in addressing all forms of cancers, particularly cancers of the reproductive systems, using community health workers will promote and increase the rate of medical services, early cancer detection and treatment. It is the Commissions opinion that tangible differences in the lives of Women, Men and Children’s shall only be attained and Universal Health Access and Coverage reached, when innovative primary health care models are at the centre of policies, systems and services of the continents health care systems.

Cognisant of the urgent need to ensure that the continents Health Systems are strengthened and complimented by access to efficacious medicines and medical products and to rid the continent of sub-standard, fake and counterfeit medicines and medical products, the Commission on behalf of its member states, is on course to establish the Africa Medicines Agency that shall improve on the regulation of medicines and medical products on the continent. The establishment of the Medicines Agency is expected to be endorsed by Heads of State and Government in 2019, and the Commission shall work with all of its member starts to fast track its establishment.

The establishment of the Africa Medicines Agency, in itself will not guarantee the requisite access to medicine, diagnostics and treatment that is needed for the prevention and treatment of conditions such as Cervical, Breast and Prostate Cancer. Domestic financing and investment remains critical, while progress is being made, towards increasing domestic financing for health the allocation of domestic financial resources to the health sector in Africa could be further improved.

Government over all investment in Health remains, well below, the Abuja target of 15% of GDP to the health sector. This has resulted in heavy burdens and negative consequences for individuals and their families that are often driven by significant out-of-pocket expenditure for cancer preventive and therapeutic services. The high toll on family budgets can be alleviated through innovative community health insurance schemes. I am pleased to note that a number of AU member states already have such schemes in place.

The Maputo Plan of Action extended by Heads of State and Government till 2030, continues to provide guidance for country action. Included as a strategic focus is the investment in adolescents, youth and other marginalized populations and as a priority intervention to improve access to and uptake of quality SRH survives for youth and adolescents including HPV vaccination.

In 2017 the commission under took an evaluation of the Campaign for the Accelerated Reduction of Maternal Mortality in Africa (CARMMA) Initiative that has been launched in 48 member states. The Initiative has also provided awareness to reproductive health cancers and recommendations from the evaluation have highlighted the need for member states to scale up access and to the HPV, doing so will significantly contribute to the reduction of cervical cancer, which is now one of the leading killers of the continent.

The African Union Commission is partnering with the Organization of the First Ladies against HIV/AIDS (OAFLA), WHO to undertake a three year advocacy campaign to spearhead a continental campaign on women reproductive system cancers, to consolidate the progress achieved thus far and mobilize African governments and global support for increased attention, prioritization and funding for the prevention, early diagnosis and treatment of women reproductive system cancers. It is expected that the outcome of the partnership will also strengthen multi-sectorial partnerships and accountability for cancer prevention, treatment and care.

In conclusion, 2018 marks the 10th anniversary of the AU Gender Pre-Summit, which has played a significant role in influencing and shaping AU policies on gender equality. The Solemn Declaration on Gender Equality and Women’s Empowerment and the Ratification and domestication of the Maputo Protocol have resulted in improved reporting , laws, policies and other institutional mechanisms that have advanced the health of women, young people and children. Improved health status of women contributes to better health of the family.

By Thomas Kwesi Quartey

Deputy Chairperson, African Union Commission.

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