Hutchinson Center Counter Cancer in Africa

By Esther Nakkazi
Freelance Writer - Uganda

Now the cancer patients have increased 20,000 fold, fueled by the HIV epidemic. (Image credit: UCI/Hutchinson Center Cancer Alliance)
UCI/Hutchinson Center Cancer Alliance

Many years ago it was a vibrant facility credited with discovering new cancers and developing novel treatment regimens for cancer patients from all over the east African region.

Today, its buildings are dilapidated and without reliable electricity, clean water, adequate medication or treatment supplies.

Its few cancer specialist staff headed by Dr. Jackson Orem see over 10,000 patients a year, most of them with infection related cancers. The diagnosis is usually a death sentence.

Now the cancer patients have increased 20,000 fold, fueled by the HIV epidemic, with mostly infection-related cancer ravaging two vital groups of people; children under the age of 12 and middle aged adults.

Kaposi’s sarcoma is rampant in adults and Burkitt’s lymphoma in children – both disfiguring, infection-related malignancies with abysmal survival rates due to lack of access to early diagnosis and treatment.

But that is to change after the collaboration between the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center in Seattle, USA, and the Uganda Cancer Institute (UCI).

The UCI/Hutchinson Center Cancer Alliance, the first international collaboration between U.S. and African cancer centers, will expand rapid diagnosis and effective treatment to dramatically improve Uganda’s cancer survival rates from 10 percent to 90 percent in the next three years, said Dr. Lawrence Corey, the president and director of Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center.

The partnership that began in 2004, to work together to better prevent, detect and treat cancer has already produced seven cancer specialists after a year’s studies at the oncology fellowship program at the Hutchinson Center in the US.

Now, with a US$500,000 grant from the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), the Hutchinson Center is to construct the first American cancer clinic and medical-training facility in Africa.

“The burden of cancer will increase. We want long term partners which also means that we need to create better infrastructure with the space to do world class research,” said Corey.

Discovering New Ways

The center also turns into the Uganda Program on Cancer and Infectious Diseases (UPCID), as a joint effort to provide first-rate cancer care in Uganda saving an estimated 6,000 lives each year.

“Every patient is a learning opportunity and research will help us in understanding cancer of the next generation,” Dr. Corey Casper, associate member of the Hutchinson Center’s Vaccine and Infectious Disease Division.

UPCID will benefit the world by identifying new infectious causes of cancer, new ways to prevent infection-associated cancers and new ways to treat such cancers with non-toxic drugs, avoiding the need for chemotherapy.

“It is an important model, which will set standards with support services- diagnosis, laboratory support, care and training,” said Casper.

Although there are great research advances in the developed world, little is known about infection related cancer, which is common in Africa.

Infectious diseases contribute to about 20 to 25 percent of the world’s cancers. Human papillomavirus (HPV) is the main cause of cancer, which remains the second most common cancer in the world, with about 500,000 new cases and 250,000 deaths each year. The HPV vaccine is 98 percent effective in preventing cancers.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) estimates that infection related cancers are growing, killing about 1.5 million people around the globe.

The UPCID joint effort will study the intersection between infections and cancer by promoting research aimed at pathophysiology, prevention, diagnosis and treatment of infection-related cancers in Africa.

Damaging Omissions

The solutions lie in training and research networks like the Uganda Cancer Institute and Hutchinson Cancer Centre Alliance.

Although cancer already kills more people than AIDS, malaria and tuberculosis combined, it is off the targets of the UN’s Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) and it is rising rapidly as incomes improve and people live longer and adopt western lifestyles.

Serigne Gueye, president of the African Organization for Research and Training in Cancer (AORTIC) based in Dakar, Senegal, has said that the most damaging omissions have been not so much in the agendas of international organizations, but in Africa itself.

According to Gueye, the problem has so far been a lack of awareness of cancer among Africans and lack of action by governments. It is also the case that international agencies have mostly lacked practical strategies for tackling cancer as the focus has been on communicable diseases.

The solutions lie in training and research networks like the Uganda Cancer Institute and Hutchinson Cancer Centre Alliance.

Parts of this article were first published at Africasti.com, with original additions by the author made to this version appearing on OnIslam.net.
Related Links:
UCI/Hutchinson Center Cancer Alliance
Endangered Tree: Hope for Prostate Cancer
Cell Circuitry Promises Cure for Cancer & HIV
Breast Cancer: Between Tragedy and Hope
Being Prostate Cancer's Candidate Could Kill You

Esther Nakkazi is a freelance science reporter, researcher and trainer. She writes mainly for the weekly regional title, The EastAfrican and other media around the globe. She is a mentor with the World Federation of Science Journalists. Follow her on Twitter @Nakkazi and blog: www.estanakkazi.blogspot.com


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