With 92 million people, Ethiopia is the world’s most populous landlocked country. Walled in by the Horn of Africa, it suffered from a devastating famine in the 1980s. Yet today, it has one of the fastest growing economies in the world. But much remains to be done. The boom has so far failed to cure the country’s ills such as poverty, poor sanitation and a strained healthcare system.
In the capital Addis Ababa, more than half of the population lives in informal settlements. Poor conditions and lack of education play a major role in the spread of communicable diseases and pathogens such as HIV, tuberculosis and malaria. The fight against them has received the lion’s share of the country’s healthcare funding.
But cancer rates have also been climbing, particularly in women infected with HIV. Yet Ethiopia has just one cancer referral hospital. This is bad news everywhere but especially in Africa, where as much as a third of cancer deaths are potentially preventable and where many of them stem from chronic infection, tobacco use and stigma.
Some rural Ethiopians, for example, still seek health advice from traditional healers before visiting specialized doctors. By the time they enter the system, the spread of cancer is often so extensive that palliative care is the only option left.
According to data published in the journal Lancet, breast and cervical cancers have the highest cancer mortality rates in Ethiopia.
GE recently committed $500,000 to Pink Ribbon Red Ribbon, a public-private partnership fighting cervical and breast cancer around the world, to battle cancer in Ethiopia. The partnership was launched by the George W. Bush Institute, the U.S. President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief, Susan G. Komen, and the Joint United Nations Program on HIV and AIDS. Its mandate is to help reduce deaths from breast and cervical cancer via education, screenings and advanced treatment.
GE will also provide advisory support and technical assistance to the Ethiopian-American Doctors Group in the planning, design and development of the country’s first state-of-the-art cancer center. The company will also help train and equip biomedical technicians to improve the quality of cancer diagnostics.
The Ethiopian government is also working to change the status quo. It has introduced broad reforms seeking to develop a healthcare industry that provides quality, affordable healthcare at a local level and reached out to the private sector for help.
Cancer remains a formidable foe everywhere, but combining prevention with education, early detection and better cancer care is the right step to blunt is edge.