Tobacco Major Cause of Cancer in Uganda

Women being educated about  cancer in Kampala

Uganda has commemorated the World Cancer Day, under the theme ‘Cancer prevention and control not beyond us’’.

The overarching message to the people was that individuals, communities,  organisations and government have a role to play in the prevention and control of cancer; ranging from vaccination to palliative care.

Hon. Dr. Chris Baryomunsi, the Minister of State for Health in charge of General Duties who represented the Chief Guest Honorable Elioda Tumwesigye, the Minister of Health, encouraged people to go for cancer screening.

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He highlighted the need to have cancer detected and diagnosed early for successful treatment.

The development came against the backdrop of former NTV new anchor Rosemary Nankabirwa’s death after losing a battle with cancer.

UBC news anchor Francis Bbale also succumbed to cancer recently.

Dr Baryomunsi highlighted efforts by the Ministry of Health (MOH) to build capacity at all levels of health system in order to offer cancer services including Human Papillomavirus (HPV) and Hepatitis B vaccination, screening, treatment and palliative care.

Baryomunsi further encouraged people to live healthy lifestyles and avoid tobacco and alcohol abuse as well as ensure that they exercise regularly, eat a balanced diet rich in vegetables, fruits and reduce intake of salt and sugar.

Dr. Hafisah Kasule a Non Communicable Disease (NCDs) expert at World Health Organization (WHO), who represented the WHO Country Representative highlighted tobacco use as one of the most important and avoidable risk factors for cancer.

She called upon government to scale up access to vaccines for cancer prevention, screening services for early detection of cancer and provision of treatment and palliative care services. She reaffirmed WHO’s commitment to supporting government in fighting cancer.

Dr. Jane Ruth Aceng the Director General of Health Services at the Ministry of Health also reiterated the Minister’s remarks on the need for early detection and treatment.

She further said that the MOH has streamlined strategies of handling NCDs in order to reduce morbidity and mortality.

She further said that roll out of cervical cancer screening services has been done in almost all districts in Uganda and pointed out that efforts to reach all districts are being made. She revealed that Hepatitis B screening had been rolled out in all districts.

The rise in the number of cases of cancer is due to ageing populations and the increasing adoption of risky behavior such as: unhealthy diet, lack of physical exercises, harmful use of alcohol as well as tobacco use.

Infectious agents have been observed to be associated with 25 percent of cancer deaths in developing countries. They include hepatitis B and C viruses, Human papilloma virus (HPV) and HIV among others, and all these are prevalent in Uganda.

They have significantly contributed to the burden of cervical cancer at 12 percent new cases each year and liver cancer with 8 percent of cancer cases each year, the most common cancers in Africa, among others.

Tobacco use is observed as the leading, yet avoidable cause for cancer causing 22 percent of local cancer deaths and 71 percent of global lung cancer deaths.

 The main messages of the day were:

Cancer is preventable though appropriate vaccinations and treatment of pre-cancerous lesions when detected early through screening

Cancer is treatable if diagnosed early.

For advanced cases people can get palliative care to improve their quality of life.

The function was well attended by government officials, the UN family, Civil Society Organizations and the media.


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