Message of the WHO Regional Director for Africa, Dr Luis Gomes Sambo, on the Occasion of World Cancer Day 2012

It is with a great sense of commitment that I join the international community to celebrate World Cancer Day, today, 4 February 2012. The theme for this year's celebration is "Together it is possible". It emphasizes that it is only by every person, organization, and government individually doing their part that the world will be able to reduce premature deaths from cancer.

There is growing evidence that the WHO African Region is facing a major public health challenge due to the rising burden of cancer. It is projected that by 2030, Africa will bear some 1.6 million new cancer cases with 1.2 million deaths. The most common cancers in the Region are cancers of the cervix, breast, liver, prostate, Kaposi's sarcoma and non-Hodgkin's lymphoma.

Among the many preventable cancer risk factors are: tobacco; harmful use of alcohol; unhealthy diet; physical inactivity; certain chronic infections; some harmful chemicals such as pesticides and asbestos, and exposure to ultraviolet radiation.

Scientific knowledge, gathered over many decades, indicates that at least one-third of all cancer cases can be prevented. Prevention offers the most cost-effective, long-term strategy for the control of cancer. For example, effective implementation of the WHO Framework Convention for Tobacco Control can ultimately decrease the morbidity and mortality rates linked to lung and throat cancers. Likewise, reducing alcohol intake or abstaining from alcohol can decrease the risk of developing liver and digestive cancers.

Healthy diets, particularly diets high in fruits and vegetables, may have a protective effect against many cancers. Conversely, excess consumption of red and preserved meat may be associated with an increased risk of colorectal cancer. Regular physical activity combined with normal body weight will considerably reduce cancer risk, particularly for digestive, gynaecologic and breast cancers.

Almost 26% of cancers in Africa are related to chronic infections, while 36% of cancer deaths are from cancers from infectious origin such as liver and cervical cancers; Kaposi sarcoma and lymphomas . Preventive measures, including large scale vaccination against Hepatitis B virus, Human papilloma virus and adequate treatment for chronic infections, will contribute to reduce the risk of cancer.

Appropriate individual and collective preventive measures should be carried out to avoid human contact with carcinogens embedded in environmental pollution of air, water, working environment and soil.

I remain convinced that implementing these primary prevention measures will significantly reduce the number of new cases of cancer in the Region. We should also be attentive to the warning signs in order to detect the disease early. Along with primary prevention measures, early detection of cancer greatly increases the chances for successful treatment.

Countries in the WHO African Region adopted a regional strategy for cancer prevention and control in 2008 to effectively scale up priority interventions, including: development of policies, legislation and regulations; mobilization and allocation of adequate resources; partnerships and coordination; training of health personnel; acquisition of adequate infrastructure and equipment for primary, secondary and tertiary prevention; and strategic information, surveillance and research.

National health systems should be oriented towards the promotion and support of healthy lifestyles within the primary health care approach in order to make healthier choices and follow lifestyle patterns that foster good health.

Cancer remains one of the top "silent killers" threatening the socio-economic development of Africa.

I urge Governments to implement strategies recommended by WHO for cancer prevention and control, the Brazzaville Declaration, the Moscow Declaration and the Political Declaration of the UN High-level meeting on NCDs so as to drastically reduce cancer burden in the Region.

WHO will continue to collaborate with regional and international development partners to provide technical support to countries, along with improved public awareness of preventive measures needed to stem the tide of cancer.

I am confident that together we can make it possible.

Thank you.


World Cancer Day 2012