Nearly 70,000 new cancer cases and 44,000 deaths occur every year in Ethiopia

By Abebech Tamene

Cancer is haunting Ethiopia with nearly 70,000 new cases and 44,000 deaths every year, a senior Ethiopian health ministry official said Thursday.

“Cancer is a growing problem in Ethiopia. It accounts for about 5.8 percent of total national mortality,” Dr. Kunuz Abdella, technical adviser for prevention and control of cancer program under the Health Ministry, told Anadolu Agency.

For people under 75 years of age, the risk of being diagnosed with cancer is 11.3 percent and the risk of dying from the disease is 9.4 percent, Abdella.

More worryingly, women are said to be the most vulnerable group in Ethiopia. “About two-thirds of reported annual cancer deaths occur among women,” he said.

The most prevalent type among adult Ethiopian females is breast cancer with 30.2 percent, followed by cancer of the cervix (13.4 percent) and colorectal cancer (5.7 percent).

Mahlet Kebede, 39, said she was shocked when she learnt about her breast cancer diagnosis.

“I was unable to come to terms with my condition,” Kebede said. “And I survived but people still believe that I am travelling to death,” she added.

Government officials in Ethiopia, which is already reeling with a host of communicable and non-communicable diseases, say they are trying their best to prevent and treat cancer under their trying circumstances.

“Expansion of cervical cancer screening and treatment in 118 selected hospitals across the country, supplying subsidized cancer treatment drugs and development of human resource for cancer care are part of the [government's] activities,” Kunuz said.

According to the ministry, the government has prioritized prevention and control of cancer as one of the key priority areas among its non-communicable diseases program.

A five-year national cancer control plan has also been developed and endorsed, which focuses on primary prevention, early detection, treatment and diagnosis to palliative care.

A comprehensive cancer care service is currently limited to only the oncology center at the BlackLlion Hospital in the Ethiopian capital Addis Ababa.

However, “there is a plan to expand the service to five university hospitals across the country [in Mekelle, Jimma, Gondar, Hawassa and Harar],” Kunuz said.

Wondu Bekele, founder and head of Mathiows Wondu-YeEthiopia Cancer Society, a non-governmental organization, told Anadolu Agency that “cancer treatment has now become significantly accessible and affordable [wordlwide].

“Cancer is no longer equal to death; the public is becoming aware that there is treatment but it is a continuous effort.”

Cancer worldwide is projected to continue to rise, particularly in developing countries.

An estimated 21 million people will be diagnosed with cancer and 13 million will die of it by the year 2030, according to Kunuz.