No longer a disease of the West, cancer is responsible for one in six deaths worldwide, with about 70 percent of cancer deaths occurring in low- and middle-income countries according to the World Health Organization. But in these countries, with so much focus on communicable diseases, cancer has gotten little attention, stoking fear and misinformation that can often delay diagnosis until it is too late.
In response, the Johns Hopkins Center for Communication Programs was engaged by the American Cancer Society to partner with governments and cancer control organizations in Ethiopia, Kenya and Uganda to adapt the Society’s U.S.-based patient education materials for an East African audience. The materials and an online toolkit they developed provide critical and evidence-based information about cancer, its diagnosis and treatment, and caregiving.
In some parts of Africa, many people believe cancer is a punishment for a sin or the result of witchcraft or a curse. In some instances, a cancer diagnosis is far more stigmatizing than a diagnosis of HIV.
The African materials are geared at those who have already been diagnosed and their families, and they directly counter the misconceptions found in each country. Cancer isn’t contagious, the materials explain. A biopsy doesn’t spread the cancer; it helps diagnose it. Radiation therapy doesn’t burn a hole in the body.
Moving forward, the CCP and the American Cancer Society are entering a new partnership to create culturally appropriate cancer prevention materials geared toward healthy populations. Pilot projects will be launched in late 2017 in India, Kenya and Uganda and an adaptation toolkit for prevention materials should be available online before the end of 2017.