Sierra Leone Government to Set Up First Cancer Treatment Center

As part of broader cancer control efforts, including the development of its National Cancer Control Plan (NCCP), the Government of Sierra Leone is planning the establishment of the country’s first cancer treatment hospital – a radiotherapy facility.

To support the country’s efforts, and help tackle low cancer survival rates, more than 40 government and civil society stakeholders convened for a national workshop to develop the NCCP.

Meeting in the capital Freetown over three days this month, workshop participants worked closely with Sierra Leone’s Ministry of Health and Sanitation (MoHS) in drafting the NCCP, focusing on five key areas: diagnosis and treatment, governance, prevention and early detection, palliative care, and strategic information and surveillance. They were guided by experts from the IAEA, WHO-AFRO, and the WHO Sierra Leone Country Office, as well as by an expert from Zambia, demonstrating effective south-south cooperation.

“In order to achieve non-communicable disease (NCD) targets in Sierra Leone by 2025 and the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) by 2030, there must be a greater emphasis on setting realistic priorities, robust costing of cancer plans and sustained budgeting for cancer programs,” said Mustapha Kabba, Deputy Chief Medical Officer at MoHS. “We look forward to the development of a cancer strategic plan that is cost effective and that will stand the test of time.”

The most common cancers in Sierra Leone are breast, prostate, cervix uteri, liver and stomach, and associated mortality rates are increasing. To lower the number of cancer deaths, Sierra Leone is prioritizing the establishment of a radiotherapy facility for cancer diagnosis and treatment, and developing a qualified workforce.

Austin Demby, Minister of Health and Sanitation, underscored government commitment. The government views the establishment of a cancer diagnosis and treatment facility as a top priority and has allocated resources to start the process, even in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, he said.

During the workshop, participants noted that Sierra Leone is making good progress towards establishing the radiotherapy facility, which will be located in Kerry Town, just west of Freetown. Sierra Leone has mobilized financial resources for the construction of the hospital and acquisition of radiotherapy equipment, but more funding is needed. Therefore, a bankable document has been developed for submission to potential donors, highlighting the human resource, equipment and civil works requirements including the required financial resources for the facility. A feasibility study for the establishment of the facility and a geotechnical survey for the Kerry Town site have also been carried out.

In the meantime, the IAEA began assisting Sierra Leone in the training of radiation oncologists and medical physicists in 2021 and will continue to provide long-term training and expert support services in relation to the establishment of the cancer treatment facility under an IAEA technical cooperation project.[1] These efforts are partly funded by the United States through the IAEA Peaceful Uses Initiative.

“This year will see the introduction of the Human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccine to prevent cervical cancer, and the rollout of screening for cancer in government facilities,” said WHO Country Office Representative Steven Velabo Shongwe. Training of staff to manage and treat cancers is underway and there are plans to build specialist facilities equipped and able to treat cancer.

The Islamic Development Bank (IsDB) is also exploring a partnership with Sierra Leone to provide financial support, Shaukat Abdulrazak, Director of the IAEA Division for Africa said. The Government of Sierra Leone has indicated its interest in the Rays of Hope initiative to help secure additional funding needed for the construction and operationalization of the facility.

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The workshop included a presentation by Groesbeck Parham, Senior Clinical Expert, WHO Cervical Cancer Elimination Initiative, who shared best practices and lessons learned from Zambia for eliminating cervical cancer, which could potentially be localized to the context in Sierra Leone. At the conclusion of the workshop, a draft of the NCCP was produced, which will be finalized by the Government in the coming months, paving the way to strengthen cancer care in the Sierra Leone and save the lives of patients.

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