Cancer in Africa: a Neglected Tragedy

Posted by On October 21, 2016

Dikembe Mutombo, chairman and president of the Dikembe Mutombo Foundation

“Where you live shouldn’t determine if you live.” Sally Cowal, representing the American Cancer Society (ACS), one of Pink Ribbon Red Ribbon’s partners, offered this sobering reminder when ACS joined IBM Health Corps, the Clinton Health Access Initiative (CHAI), and the Dikembe Mutombo Foundation to host a discussion with the global health community about cancer in Africa. Pink Ribbon Red Ribbon CEO Celina Schocken was also speaker at this event on October 19 in Washington, DC.

In 2012 there were over 93,000 new cases of cervical cancer and 57,000 cervical cancer deaths in sub-Saharan Africa, as well as 94,000 breast cancer cases and almost 48,000 deaths from breast cancer. While these and many other cancers are treatable, fewer than 10% of African cancer patients receive any treatment – even simple pain relief. The event highlighted the global health community’s nascent response to the growing problem of cancer in Africa, tackling challenges related to commodity markets, laboratory capacity, and the health workforce.


Celina contributed to the discussion with a call for integrating cancer screening with reproductive and other health services in low-resource settings, and she highlighted the need to address the stigma faced by people with cancer in many African countries.

Dr. Dan Milner, representing PRRR’s partner the American Society for Clinical Pathology (ASCP), described ASCP’s success in forming partnerships to improve diagnoses, provide pathology training, and bring forward new technologies. IBM Health Corps presented a new chemotherapy forecasting tool, developed in collaboration with ACS and CHAI, that can be used to assist in national cancer program procurement planning.

By Jennie Aylward, Pink Ribbon Red Ribbon Consultant