Expanding access to cancer care in Africa

Access to cancer care

Over the past decade, the global health community has made great progress in the advancement of cancer care. In particular, early diagnosis and treatment for breast cancer has made surviving the disease possible for many. But, these advancements have not fully reached patients in many parts of the world.

Barriers to access

Patients in Africa face barriers to access throughout their journey. Among the most pressing barriers are awareness, diagnostics, funding and healthcare capacity, which stem from broader systemic challenges. These barriers prevent people from receiving the care they need to fight cancer and build their future.

Healthcare Professionals

Healthcare Professionals (HCPs) play a critical role in enabling access and delivering care to people at risk of and diagnosed with cancer. But they can’t do it alone. Continued commitment from public and private sectors will be critical for achieving universal cancer care access.


The patient journey begins with understanding disease burdens and risk factors and knowing options for care.

HCP testimonial

Lack of awareness for disease and healthcare options keeps patients from accessing care. Investing in better knowledge sharing could have a great impact on the future of cancer care in Africa

Dr. Elud Njuguna Head of Cancer Treatment Center, Kenyatta National Hospital

HCP role

The challenges that physicians see in oncology practices in Africa start with a lack of awareness about cancers of all kinds. Information about cancer and cancer care is hard to come by. As a result, many cancer cases are diagnosed in a late stage, which can limit a physician’s ability to help.

HCP story

Dr. Njuguna has an extensive background in medicine and surgery, oncology and palliative medicine, yet a lack of disease awareness means patients often come in with late-stage disease and the infrastructural support– including diagnostics and lab space needed to utilise most cancer medicines — prevents her from helping many of the patients she sees.


Early, accurate cancer diagnosis can significantly increase a patient’s chance of survival. However, many hospitals in Africa are not equipped with the machines or operating technicians needed to meet demand.

The average five year survival rate for early stage breast cancer diagnosis is 98.8% versus 26% for later or advanced stage.

Yet, in some African countries, as many as 80% of patients are diagnosed at late-to-end stage.

HCP testimonial

Despite the critical role pathologists play in diagnosing cancer, there is only 1 for every 500,000 patients in my country. Strong partnerships can help us build a foundation for better diagnostics.

Professor Diomandé Head of Cocody pathology department & Pathology scientific society, Ivory Coast

HCP role

Pathologists provide the microscopic level data—such as histology, state of hormonal receptors and the HER2 gene—that doctors need to deliver effective treatment and save lives. They also manage availability of reactive agents and coordinate with physicians to ensure proper treatment.

HCP story

Prof. Diamondé started his career in France, but returned to Cote d'Ivoire with to help advance the efficacy of the cancer care system in his home country. To succeed, he says we must do two things. First, hospitals and care facilities must begin to prioritise pathological anatomy as a necessary department and allot proper funding. Second, he argues that African states should stick to their promise of investing 15% of budgets in health advancement in order to drive progress and improve outcomes for patients.


Too often, patients are turned away or go into debt because they cannot afford proper cancer care.

Medical insurance schemes cover less than 8% of the population in Africa.

HCP quote

We need to develop a system that makes cancer medicines affordable to all people and hospitals.

Dr. Irene Weru Clinical Pharmacist, Kenyatta National Hospital

HCP role

Not only do pharmacists in Africa manage prescriptions for patients, but they also maintain a list of “formulary medicines” for the hospital. This means reviewing research to recommend products and ensuring that all medicines on the formulary list are both stocked and affordable to the hospital.

HCP story

Dr. Irene Weru is a clinical pharmacist at the Kenyatta National Hospital, where she manages all pharmaceutical services, trains students and interns in the hospital and is a therapeutics and formula lead. Even when patients have access to diagnosis and surgery, she says, stock-outs often prevent patients from completing their care regiment on schedule.

Health capacity

Patients in Africa frequently travel many miles – sometimes by foot – to the closest hospital, only to be turned away because there are no oncologists available. Africa’s health infrastructure does not have the capacity to meet rising need for oncological care.

The current healthcare workforce in Sub-Saharan Africa would need to be scaled up by as much as 140% to meet existing need.

HCP testimonial

There are always more patients coming than we can treat or have beds for. This creates a backlog of patients, and many go without care because they cannot access it in time

Stellamaris Musomi Oncology Nurse at the Kenyatta National Hospital Cancer Treatment Centre

HCP role

Many patients in Africa must travel long distances for treatment, and when they get there, have no accommodations. Specialized training, like in oncology, is hard to access, which limits health capacity and prevents patients from accessing care.

HCP story

Stellamaris Musomi works long hours in the oncology ward, but says that there is always a backlog of patients who need care that the hospital cannot provide. Without diagnostic machinery, space for patients and skilled manpower, patients cannot get the care they need. Through increased government support and oversight, Stella says, these challenges can be overcome.

A comprehensive approach to invest in health infrastructure

Roche in Africa is working to expand access to cancer care for patients on the continent. Through our partnerships throughout the region, we are taking a comprehensive approach to invest in health infrastructure, expand awareness for cancers and increase access to much needed cancer care.