Cancer in My Community: Striving to Lead People to Cancer Care in Côte d'Ivoire

November 22, 2022
N'da Marcelin Homian, MD

Cancer in My Community is a Cancer.Net Blog series that shows the global impact of cancer and how people work to care for those with cancer in their region. N’da Marcelin Homian, MD, is a medical oncologist and the Head of the Unit of Hospitalization at University Hospital Medical Center at Treichville (CHU Treichville) in Abidjan, Côte d'Ivoire. View Dr. Homian's disclosures.

Why I care for people with cancer

I joined the Department of Oncology at CHU Treichville in September 2002 with an ambition to combat cancer. I was driven to become an oncologist after witnessing many people close to me struggling against this dreadful disease without any financial means or support. I have been dedicated to caring for people suffering from cancer through the prevention, diagnosis, and treatment of the disease, as well as researching into more effective cancer solutions.

Few health care workers are interested in oncology in Côte d'Ivoire, as the disease is marginalized in our community. So, I have been really involved in the care of people with cancer to contribute to easing their burden, improving the quality of their lives, and giving them smiles when I can.

What cancer is like in Côte d'Ivoire

Prior to the last 10 years, people in Côte d'Ivoire knew little about cancer. Today, many people in my country believe cancer is caused by witchcraft and that being diagnosed with cancer means death. Because of this, some people with cancer feel rejected in our community as cancer is sometimes thought to be contagious or associated with curses. Additionally, some people with cancer in Côte d'Ivoire, especially women, are rejected by their husbands when they go through cancer surgery that leads to the removal of a breast or when physical changes occur as a result of side effects from systemic therapy. Most of the people in our community are so connected to the cultural opinions about cancer that they may ignore cancer information that is based on scientific research.

Overall, there is a negative view associated with cancer care in Côte d'Ivoire. Many people with cancer in my country choose to skip medical care because they think that cancer is a curse and turn to traditional alternative medicine instead, which is highly supported in the culture of Côte d'Ivoire. This further encourages people with cancer, who are already scared by what they hear about the negative side effects of cancer treatment, to decline medical care.

For those who do choose standard medical care to treat their cancer, most of the time, they are referred to oncologists in Abidjan, which is a major city in Côte d'Ivoire. Sometimes, patients visit oncologists in Abidjan based on recommendations from other people with cancer. There, they undergo exams that they either pay for themselves or that are covered by their insurance to confirm the diagnosis and stage of the disease and to receive appropriate treatment. Newer cancer treatments are not available in Côte d'Ivoire, but patients who can afford them are able to order them through a private pharmacy.

Where patients can find local resources and support

Most people with cancer in Côte d'Ivoire have difficulty paying for both the diagnosis and treatment of cancer. Few patients are covered by public and private insurance. Some patients find financial support from non-governmental organizations (NGOs), the Ministry of Health, or donations from some pharmaceutical companies. Others are helped by associations or groups of people, such as those with the same religious beliefs, their families, or their close friends.

Most cancer-related NGOs based in Côte d'Ivoire are focused on the early detection and prevention of cancer. The NGOs providing support to people with cancer are not highly advertised and are consequently less known to the general population. Fondation Agir contre les Cancers (FAC) is one NGO that provides support to people with cancer.

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