Senegal to offer free breast and cervical cancer treatment

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TO GO WITH AFP FOCUS STORY BY TOM LITTLE Aida Abdulla (L) looks on as Dr Samrin Farouk Habbani prepares the digital mammogram machine at the Khartoum Breast Care Centre on October 15, 2015. Local doctors told Abdulla her chest pain was an infection, arthritis or muscle strain. But when she travelled to a hospital in Khartoum months later she was diagnosed with breast cancer. AFP PHOTO/ ASHRAF SHAZLY (Photo credit should read ASHRAF SHAZLY/AFP/Getty Images)

Aida Abdulla (L) looks on as Dr. Samrin Farouk Habbani prepares the digital mammogram machine at the Khartoum Breast Care Centre on October 15, 2015. Local doctors told Abdulla her chest pain was an infection, arthritis or muscle strain. But when she travelled to a hospital in Khartoum months later she was diagnosed with breast cancer. AFP PHOTO/ ASHRAF SHAZLY

Senegal’s government says that women suffering from breast or cervical cancer will be offered free chemotherapy in public hospitals from the beginning of October.

“We are relieved because these are the most common types of cancers affecting women here,” Dr. Fatma Guenoun, president of the Senegalese Anti-Cancer League, told BBC News.

For other types of cancers, 60 percent of the costs will be reimbursed, the government says.

“This is an appropriate measure and will hopefully reduce mortality and help alleviate poverty,” a medical officer with the World Health Organization told BBC News.

Dr. Barango Prebo says other countries on the continent, like Rwanda, Namibia and Seychelles, also offer free chemotherapy.

An estimated $1.6 billion has been allocated by the Senegalese government for this new measure. Already, in 2015, the government agreed to cover at least 30 percent of the cost of treating all cancers.

But many other obstacles remain when it comes to effectively and affordably treating cancer.

For example, Dr. Guenoun believes more mammograms, which detect the presence of breast cancer, need to be offered to women in Senegal.

In many circumstances, radiotherapy is needed, in addition to chemotherapy, to control the disease in the tissues where cancer began, Dr. Benjamin Anderson, professor of surgery and global health medicine at the University of Washington explained.

Finally, the public and among healthcare providers need to be educated on the treatments available, according to Dr. Anderson.

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