Cancer has risen throughout the world, but most of the focus has been on the disease in Western countries. However, it is also on the rise in places like Tanzania, which are less well equipped for the onslaught of non-communicable diseases.
For example, at the Ocean Road Cancer Institute (ORCI) in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, the number of new cancer patients recorded has been increasing substantially over the years, with 5,529 cases documented in 2016, a marked increase from 5,244 cases recorded in 2015, 4,195 in 2014 and 3,776 in 2013. The International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) estimates that cancer incidence in Tanzania stands at 42,060 cases per year, 60 percent of which are women.
According to Dr Omary Ubuguyu, NCD Programme Manager and Acting Focal Person for the National Cancer at the Ministry of Health, “Targeted interventions along the cancer continuum are needed to increase the quality and capacity of oncology services across the country”.
The Aga Khan Health Services in Tanzania (AKHS,T) has responded by leading the Tanzania Comprehensive Cancer Project (TCCP), a 38 billion Tanzania Shilling, four-year project jointly funded by the Agence française de développement (AFD) and Aga Khan Development Network (AKDN) through the Aga Khan Foundation in Tanzania. TCCP aims at reducing the burden of cancer morbidity and mortality in 13 districts of Dar es Salaam and Mwanza through an innovative public-private collaboration. The Project will substantially scale up the quality of cancer care through increased capacity, improved infrastructure, expanded access to screening and detection services, establishment of partnerships and joint research agenda across all levels of health care services.
In order to tackle the comprehensive nature of the country’s needs, AKHS’ implementing partners include the Muhimbili National Hospital, Ocean Road Cancer Institute (ORCI) and Bugando Medical Centre (BMC). Collaborators include the Aga Khan Foundation, Tanzania (AKF,T), President’s Office, Regional and Local Government, and the Ministry of Health, Community Development, Gender, Elderly and Children, with technical support from Institut Curie, the French foundation for cancer research.
The needs are acute. According to Dr Julius Mwaiselage, Executive Director of ORCI, ORCI was “the only specialised 270-bed facility for cancer treatment in Tanzania … tasked with providing care for over 55 million people.” ORCI alone conducts 43,200 radiotherapy sessions and 6,000 brachytherapy services annually, but generally health services are not easily accessible and there are major supply and performance issues. Most patients in Tanzania present with cancers at advanced stages due to inadequate screening and early diagnosis. Clinics face chronic challenges ranging from a shortage of critical drugs for chemotherapy to the poor working condition of the radiotherapy machines.
“This project (TCCP) has the potential to substantially scale up the quality of cancer care through growing investments in health service delivery, education, and research,” said Dr Julius Mwaiselage at a recent event. A recent example was the donation of a state-of-the-art 3D Ultrasound Machine provided by TCCP, which will improve early detection services for Tanzanians accessing services at ORCI.
“Cancer continues to affect the lives of millions of people in Tanzania,” says Mr Sisawo Konteh, Director of TCCP. “The disease burden can be effectively prevented and managed through appropriate continuum of cancer care, which remains a challenge in Tanzania.”
The Project is expected to directly benefit approximately 1.7 million people through over 100 health facilities at all levels in Dar es Salaam and Mwanza regions. In efforts to strengthen the screening and early detection services for cancer patients, TCCP, the private-public collaboration led by AKHS, is supporting ORCI with resources like the state-of-art 3D Ultrasound Machine.