Government has secured 13.5 million dollars loan to improve radiotherapy facilities at the Korle-Bu Teaching Hospital and the Komfo Anokye Teaching Hospitals (KATH) as well as strengthen cancer screening and prevention.
Mr Rojo Mettle-Nunoo, Deputy Minister of Health, who announced this in Accra on Thursday, said despite the interventions a number of challenges still remained.
He said the challenges included growing burden of non-communicable diseases, the commitment of African Heads of State to address the cancer adequately and introduction of Regeneration Health and Nutrition programme in Ghana.
Speaking at a Workshop on Cost Effectiveness of Interventions to Prevent and Control Breast Cancer and a National Breast Cancer Policy on Thursday, he said the myths and misconceptions about the disease explained why people presented cases very late to health institutions.
Mr Mettle-Nunoo said available statistics indicated that at Korle-Bu Teaching Hospital (KBTH) the average age of cancer cases was 48.1 years (range 24-75) while a third of the cases were aged 40-49, the peak age.
He said 14 per cent of the cases were not suitable for surgery due to advanced disease and 26 per cent either absconded or refused surgery.
In 1996, cancers were the leading cause of deaths at KBTH, and accounted for 2.6 per cent of all admission and 5.6 per cent of all deaths, while 15 per cent of all cancer patients died.
The Deputy Health Minister said according to World Health Organisation (WHO) statistics 17,000 new cancer cases were recorded and 13,000 cancer deaths occurred in Ghana annually and added that “We have a problem on our hands due to our unhealthy lifestyles”.
“What makes these statistics remarkable is that, according to WHO about one-third of cancers are preventable through lifestyle changes such as stopping smoking, immunisation against infectious agents such as Hepatitis B and the papilloma virus,” he added.
Mr Mettle-Nunoo announced that the Ministry’s policy for the control of breast cancer included reducing exposure to the risk factors for breast cancer and increasing awareness to the disease, screening, early reporting and diagnosis, adequate treatment, follow-ups and rehabilitation of patients through palliative care and prosthetic devices.
He said the benefit package under the National Health Insurance Scheme (NHIS) excluded cancer treatment except breast and cervical cancer and urged Ghanaians to continue to register with the NHIS.
Dr William Bosu, Programme Manager for Non-Communicable Diseases (NCDs) said the workshop had recommended the sustainability of the project and political support to finalise national cancer strategic framework as improve funding for cancers.
He said there was the need to strengthen referral systems through public education, improved collaboration between local transport unions and community members, training of primary care givers, engagement of breast cancer survivors and counselors and management of cancer prevention and control within an integrated framework of NCDs.
Mr Sten Zelle of Radboud University Nijmegen Medical Centre in the Netherlands said in developing a cancer policy, Ghana should begin with the training of personnel, improve the referral system and establish a cancer registry and synergise with existing systems.
Dr Cecilia Sepulvada, WHO Adviser on Cancer, said the Breast Cancer Project Action Plan 2008-2012 was endorsed by the World Health Assembly (WHA) with key objective to promote National Cancer control policies, plans and programmes.
She said breast cancer was a priority within global cancer control and top cancers in women worldwide and noted that this called for effective interventions such as health promotion, primary prevention, early detection, diagnosis and treatment through palliative care, adding that services needed to be integrated across all levels of care.
Dr Beatrice Wiafe-Addai, Chief Executive Officer of Peace and Love Hospital, said a lot had to be done through awareness creation, to demystify the disease and improve upon early detection measures.
She said late presentation of breast cancer was still a problem in developing countries and noted that locally advanced breast cancer had to be effectively managed, since patient’s life could be prolonged.
Mrs Gladys Boateng, Director of Reach for Recovery Ghana and a Breast Cancer Survivor for 11 years, said there was a great amount of inaccurate information regarding breast cancer and that until accurate information was disseminated, the stigma and the myth associated with the disease would continue to prevent more women from joining the fight against breast cancer.
In line with this, Reach for Recovery Ghana, has decided to embark upon periodic and intensive awareness creation nationwide, demystify the disease and bring hope to women.