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Public health

A daunting challenge

by Karim Okanla

In brief

The progress made in the fight against HIV/Aids is not enough: A person living with  HIV is given medication in Abomey.

The progress made in the fight against HIV/Aids is not enough: A person living with HIV is given medication in Abomey.

For a long time, the authorities in Benin didn’t pay much attention to cancer. It was not considered a serious threat to public health. People thought that cancer was a problem of prosperous western nations, perhaps because of their genes or perhaps because of their lifestyles.

That attitude is now changing fast. This disease is affecting an ever increasing number of people, and the death toll has gone through the roof. According to Freddy Gnangnon, a cancer specialist, the various kinds of this disease now kill as many patients as do HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis (TB) and malaria combined.

Government agencies know that they must do more than fight TB, HIV/AIDS or malaria. Thanks to financial support provided by the Global Fund, considerable progress has been made on these fronts. Now the nation must rise to the daunting challenges of cancer.

Awareness raising is an important first step. Myths and superstitions must be debunked. In cooperation with patients’ associations and other civil-society groups, government agencies are running sensitisation campaigns. At major traffic roundabaouts and along thoroughfares in Cotonou and Porto-Novo, non-governmental organisations post billboards that invite young men and women to carry out early cancer detection.

Some posters advertise traditional medicine, especially regarding prostate cancer, but so far there is no scientific proof of herbal medications actually helping. It is not even clear whether traditional healers are authorised by law to provide cancer patients with treatments. The matter is blurry because they are permitted to cure headaches or stomach problems, for example.

A large number of people resort to witch doctors rather than consulting specialists. Benin – like most African countries – is not in a position to deal with this huge health hazard. Cancer has become a top priority, it can no longer be neglected. (ko)


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