International Project

Cancer Prevention in Ethiopia

Cancer is rapidly becoming a public health priority in Africa, in 2008 were estimated 715000 new cases and 542 000 deaths were caused by cancer. According to reportage from the Lancet cancer incidence and mortality will reach 1.28 million by 2030.

With regards to Ethiopia the situation does not look positive. Ethiopia has a fast growing population in fact the country is expected to become the ninth most populated country by 2050 and the prevalence of cancer is predicted to rise as well. Policy makers’ attention is focussed merely on disease such as malaria, HIV and tuberculosis despite their incidence of these diseases is in decline.

There is an insufficient data regarding cancer registration and measurement of the burden of cancer on population. According to the GLOBOCAN Cancer factsheet 2008 the mortality caused by all types of Cancer was 51200 and 41600 respectively.  However the data gathered are mainly grounded on work done by the only cancer referral centre, the Black Lion Hospital in Addis Ababa. With its limited resources the hospital has visited more than 260 000 patients who include more than 2000 adults and more than 200 children. The hospital’s work in delivered by two haematologists, four medical oncologists, four radiotherapists, two surgical oncologists,  only one paediatric oncologist and three palliative pain specialists . Furthermore the centre is endowed of only one CT scanner and one MRI scanner. The treatments offered encompass anticancer drugs, surgery, and radiotherapy.


However most of the patients have incurable disease due to late presentation and lack of prevention, so most of them are in need of palliative care.

Late presentation to the hospital is mainly the result of lack of information and of the stigma related to the disease. At first symptoms people tend to visit traditional healer   rather than doctors because of the lack of prevention-information centre around the country and in particular in rural areas. There is an inadequate understanding of the disease most of the time deemed as incurable, and this feeling of hopeless is often associated to the lengthy process of referrals.

In the long term Ethiopian Women’s Empowerment Group is planning to open small information centres, to train cancer nurses, to train community volunteers to conduct information seminars in schools.