Increasing Access to Lifesaving Cancer Treatment in Africa

By Gary M. Reedy
Chief Executive Officer 
American Cancer Society

Many people are surprised to learn the American Cancer Society has a global cancer control program. Yet our mission statement makes our purpose very clear: our mission is to save lives, celebrate lives, and lead the fight for a world without cancer.

Along with our supporters, we’re making important contributions that have led to significant progress against cancer in the United States. Prevention efforts, early detection, and better treatments have resulted in a 25 percent decline in cancer mortality rates since 1991 in the US, avoiding 2.1 million cancer deaths nationwide.

But the cancer experience in the developing world is much different than what patients here in the US experience. While the five-year survival rate for women with breast cancer in the US is 90 percent, in Uganda, it’s just 46 percent. Cancer kills more people in the region than either malaria or tuberculosis. And by 2030, the World Health Organization estimates that for every four deaths from HIV/AIDS in sub-Saharan Africa, there will be three deaths from cancer.

Access to cancer care is a critical issue. Two of many important barriers to improving cancer care in Africa have been limited access to treatments that have been used in higher-income countries for decades and the proliferation of counterfeit cancer drugs sold at premium prices. Individuals diagnosed with cancer are twice as likely to die from their cancer in Sub-Saharan Africa than in the US.

That’s why we’re so proud to collaborate with the Clinton Health Access Initiative (CHAI) to significantly improve access to cancer care for patients in Africa. We recently took an important step with two separate groundbreaking market access agreements with Pfizer Inc. and Cipla Inc. to expand access to 16 essential cancer treatment medications in Ethiopia, Nigeria, Kenya, Uganda, Rwanda, and Tanzania. And thanks to pro-bono consulting services from IBM Health Corps, we’re also working to develop and deploy chemotherapy forecasting software to help countries quantify their cancer medicine needs and plan budgets and procurement. The agreements will set competitive prices on the medicines, thus allowing African governments to realize substantial savings while improving the quality of available treatment.

For more than a hundred years, the American Cancer Society and our volunteers have led the fight for a world without cancer. We believe the cancer fight is one we can win. We can bring this disease under control as a major public health problem, and we’re committed to making sure that the progress we’ve made in the US is not limited to our borders. But it will take all sectors — public, private, and nonprofit — working together.

Every person with cancer deserves access to treatment, no matter where they live. Collaborating with companies like Pfizer and Cipla is a critical next step toward leveling the playing field for people with cancer and saving lives in this part of the world. It’s just one of the things we’re doing as part of a broader effort led by the American Cancer Society and supported by CHAI to improve the market environment for cancer care in Africa, and a vital step toward our vision of a world free from the pain and suffering of this disease.