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Mauritius marked the World Cancer 2023 at national level with high commitment to reduce barriers to life-saving preventive services while focusing on raising awareness on cancer. The World Health Organization (WHO) Representative in Mauritius, Dr Anne Marie Ancia, the Parliamentary Private Secretary, Mr Serge Gilbert Bablee, and other personalities attended the event in the presence of the Minister of Health and Wellness, Dr the Hon Kailesh Kumar Singh Jagutpal. 

World Cancer Day 2023, commemorated around the world on 04 February marks the second year of the global campaign “Close the care gap” which focuses on building stronger alliances and new innovative collaborations in the fight against cancer by “uniting our voices and taking action”.

On the commemoration of this important world day event in Mauritius on 06 February at Camp Fouquereaux Social Welfare Centre, Plaines Wilhems, the Minister of Health and Wellness, Dr the Hon Kailesh Kumar Singh Jagutpal emphasized the importance of regular screening and early diagnosis to better treat cancer and saving lives.

It was an occasion to raise awareness on cancer and to encourage its prevention, detection and treatment. Cancer being the leading cause of death worldwide and accounted for nearly 10 million deaths in 2020 or nearly one in six deaths.

The Minister of Health and Wellness said, “cancer is the third main cause of death in Mauritius. According to the National Cancer Registry, some 2,866 new cases of cancer were detected in 2021, including 1,185 men and 1,681 women”.  Around 18.7% men suffer from prostate cancer while 35.2% women suffer from colorectal cancer and cervical cancer, he added. Dr Hon Jagutpal drew attention on the alarming statistics for cigarettes and alcohol consumption. He urged everyone to stay away from risk behaviours such as tobacco use, physical inactivity and unhealthy eating habits. Maintaining a healthy lifestyle and practice physical exercises regularly can reduce one’s risk of developing cancer by 40%.

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The Government of Mauritius is investing substantially in a state-of-the-art infrastructure with a new cancer hospital offering service in Victoria to improve health care services for cancer treatment. The National Cancer Control Programme 2022-2025 also paths the ways towards a better framework as regards diagnosis, treatment, research and palliative care.

The WHO Representative in Mauritius, Dr Anne Ancia highlighted cancer was a leading cause of death worldwide, accounting for nearly 10 million deaths in 2020, adding that this number was expected to rise in 2023. Lung, prostate, colorectal, stomach and liver cancer are the most common types of cancer in men, while breast, colorectal, lung, cervical and thyroid cancer are the most common among women. The cancer burden continues to grow globally, exerting tremendous physical, emotional and financial strain on individuals, families, communities and health systems.

“Many health systems in low- and middle-income countries are least prepared to manage the burden of cancer and most cancer patients globally do not have access to timely quality diagnosis and treatment”, said Dr Ancia. In countries where health systems were strong, survival rates of many types of cancers were improving, thanks to accessible early detection, quality treatment and survivorship care.

Care for cancer, however, like so many other diseases, reflects the inequalities and inequities of our world, said the WHO Representative in Mauritius who added the clearest distinction is between high- and low-income countries, with comprehensive treatment reportedly available in more than 90% of high-income countries but less than 15% of low-income countries. For example, the survival of children diagnosed with cancer is more than 80% in high-income countries, and less than 30% in low- and middle-income countries. And breast cancer survival five years after diagnosis now exceeds 80% in most high-income countries, compared with 66% in India and just 40% in South Africa.

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Dr A. Ancia highlighted, “at least one third of cancers are preventable – caused mainly by tobacco use, high body mass index, alcohol consumption, low fruit and vegetable intake, and lack of physical activity”.  Preventable Infections causing cancer, such as human papillomavirus (HPV) and hepatitis, are also responsible for approximately 30% of cancer cases in low- and lower-middle-income countries.  By championing healthy life choices and prevention strategies we can reduce the risk of developing cancer, she added.  

Mauritius has achieved a remarkable milestone in its efforts of eliminating cervical cancer by extending HPV vaccination to boys of 9 to 15 years old. Girls of the same age are being protected against HPV since 2016.  

In a country were lung cancer remains the second form of all cancers, tobacco consumption and increasing pollution constitute important risk factors that can be easily preventable. Similarly, cancer of the tube digestive such as colorectal cancer and stomach cancer can be effectively prevented by healthier diet and lower consumption of alcohol. Finally physical exercise has also a positive contribution in the prevention of cancers.

Dr A. Ancia expressed appreciation for the initiatives taken by the country to open a national cancer hospital to improve cancer care in Mauritius. “Some cancers tend to disseminate rapidly in other organs creating metastasis and decreasing the chance of treatment and survival. Systematically screening and early diagnostics are therefore extremely important actions to undertake for the effective management of cancers,” added Dr Ancia.

“I wish to make an appeal to the population – individuals, governments, partners and civil society for a more combined effort and multi-sectoral approach to achieve uninterrupted access to affordable, safe and effective cancer prevention, detection and therapies for all”, added Dr Ancia.  She reassured the Health Minister of the World Health Organization continued support in strengthening prevention and early detection of all causes of cancer by the promotion of healthier and safer practices and attitude for all people of Mauritius.

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The cancer prevention and control campaign comprised screening for breast cancer and cervical cancer; sensitization campaigns in colleges for students of Grades 7,9 and 12; health promotion campaigns across the island; and vaccination campaign for human papilloma virus for children aged between 9 to 15 years.

Distributed by APO Group on behalf of World Health Organization (WHO) – Mauritius.