In Africa, cancer is deadlier than malaria – here’s what biotech’s doing about it

microscopes in a lab via BIO

In Africa, cancer is 60% deadlier than malaria—and without action, the continent’s cancer burden is projected to get worse.

“Should current trends continue, Africa’s cancer burden is projected to reach an alarming 1.4 million new cases and 1 million deaths by 2030,” says BIO Ventures for Global Health (BVGH), a non-profit founded by the Biotechnology Innovation Organization (BIO) to advance global health in developing nations.

More than 20% of African countries have no access to cancer treatments at all; even in countries with access, it’s “limited and sporadic.” There’s also poor diagnostic capacity, a shortage of trained oncologists and clinicians, and minimal clinical trials across the continent, says Jennifer Dent, President and CEO of BVGH. As a result, late diagnosis is common.

How BVGH is improving health care in Africa

BVGH partners with African governments, health care leaders, and hospitals to determine a country’s specific needs—then helps the country access drugs, clinical trials, screening, train the workforce and raise awareness in a sustainable, scalable way.

Raising awareness of the importance of early detection is a critical piece of the puzzle. For example, cervical cancer is the second most common in Africa—and deadliest in Rwanda. But it doesn’t need to be deadly if detected early.

BVGH partnered with the Rwanda Biomedical Center and Ministry of Health to develop and implement an “educate, screen, treat” program for the 185,000 women in Rwanda’s Bugesera District, screening thousands of women for HPV (a major risk factor for cervical cancer) and providing breast exams, as well as providing transportation to follow-up tests.

As a result, 29 women were referred for urgent treatment of suspected cervical or breast cancer—likely much earlier than they would have otherwise, giving them a much greater chance of survival.

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