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Cancer has a far-reaching impact, affecting millions of people and causing nearly 10 million deaths worldwide in 2020, which accounts for about one in every six deaths. [i]. The World Health Organization (WHO) states that Africa, home to over 1.4 billion people, which makes up 18% of the global population, is particularly susceptible to HPV infections. This results in an estimated 68,000 cases of cervical cancer in the region each year[ii]. Tragically, the survival rate for breast cancer in sub-Saharan Africa is just 40% over five years, a stark contrast to the over 90% survival rate in many high-income nations[iii]. Although breast, cervical, and prostate cancer are the most common types in Africa, the sub-Saharan cancer landscape is varied and is projected to double by 2040.

Most African nations are far from adequately scaling up their capacity to control cancer. The diagnosis of cancer not only delivers an emotional blow, but it also takes a heavy financial toll on families, communities, and the economy. The cost of treatment has skyrocketed, causing financial ruin and putting families in debt. For instance, a single chemotherapy session in South Africa can cost nearly $1000[i], while a weekly radiotherapy session in Kenya can run up to $400. Given the lower average income in Africa compared to other regions, these high costs can prevent many individuals from getting the medical care they need, leading to subpar health outcomes. 

Cancer not only brings a high cost of treatment, but it can also lead to financial insecurity and poverty for families, as the main provider of a household may not be able to work and generate income. The burden of treatment often extends to the community, as they come together to support the affected individual through fundraising efforts. This financial strain can impact economic growth as resources are redirected away from essential services, leading to a vicious cycle of decreased access to quality care and declining economic growth. The diagnosis can cause individuals to prematurely utilize their life savings thereby leaving them struggling to make ends meet, worsening their quality of life and adding to the already heavy burden of the illness.

Despite the financial impact of cancer treatment, there are strategies that can help reduce the burden of cancer care in Africa.

Health Insurance

Health insurance serves as a vital safeguard for those fighting the high cost of cancer treatment. Governments throughout Africa are working to ease this financial strain through programs such as the National Health Insurance Fund (NHIF) for example In Kenya, the NHIF provides private hospital coverage for patients and offers insurance to low-income citizens for only $4.65 a month. This stands in stark contrast to private insurance providers who charge a steep $279.06 for coverage that often does not include terminal illnesses. With cancer taking the lives of 71 Kenyans every day, access to affordable health insurance is a must.[i]

Although health insurance is available in some parts of Africa, it does not always give people access to good healthcare. This is because there is a lack of healthcare facilities and workers, not enough money for healthcare, and not enough good care. When people do not receive good care, they are less likely to seek medical help, making it difficult for people to get the healthcare they need. Cancer treatment is not covered the same way by health insurance in every African country and by different insurance providers. In many African countries, health insurance is not very common or is limited, and some governments only cover certain types of cancer treatment. Other insurance providers offer coverage, but it is expensive.
Community Assistance

Communities can offer assistance to alleviate the financial strain of cancer. One such example is Faraja Cancer Support, which provides treatment at both private and government hospitals in Nairobi. Faraja is aiming to raise 100 million Kenyan shillings (1 million US dollars) to provide up to 50 patients with medical treatment annually, including surgery, brachytherapy, chemotherapy, radiation, and hormonal therapy. This community-based method increases access to care and reduces the financial burden of cancer[i].

Cancer-specific funds

Cancer-specific funds can provide financial assistance to people with cancer and their families. For example, Cancer Relief Fund Africa NPO found in South Africa has established a cancer fund that provides financial support to people with cancer and their families[i]. This fund helps reducing the financial burden of cancer.

To sum up this World Cancer Day, let us acknowledge that the financial impact of cancer in Africa is a major concern that requires a collaborative effort to address. Governments, non-profit organizations, health insurance providers, and communities can all help to reduce cancer’s financial burden and improve access to affordable treatment. A call to action is required to increase funding for cancer research, treatment, and support services, as well as to raise awareness about the importance of early detection and treatment. We can reduce the financial risk associated with cancer in Africa and improve the lives of those affected by the disease by working together.