Why did MSF turn its attention to cancer patients?
MSF’s interest in cancer is the result of a combination of factors. In low-income countries, epidemiological projections suggest a decline in infectious diseases and a simultaneous rise in chronic diseases such as cancer. The lack of resources and the late stages at which cancers are diagnosed in sub-Saharan Africa, for example, suggest that they will eventually claim more victims than infectious diseases, as they do currently in high-income countries. The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that cancer mortality will double in Africa by 2040.
In Malawi, where we have been providing HIV/AIDS care for many years, we found that a lot of our patients had cervical cancer too. Women with HIV are six times more likely to get cervical cancer than women without HIV. This led us to carry out a comprehensive assessment of the cervical cancer problem in Malawi, which has the second highest prevalence and mortality rates in the world. In 2020, 4,145 new cases of cervical cancer were detected and 2,905 women died. Access to anti-cancer drugs is highly variable, radiotherapy is non-existent, and surgery is poorly developed. We are interested in supporting vaccinations to protect against cervical cancer where possible, as well as extending screening programmes and developing treatment solutions.