Real-world challenges for patients with breast cancer in sub-Saharan Africa: a retrospective observational study of access to care in Ghana, Kenya and Nigeria

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Internal Medicine (East Africa)


Objective: To evaluate medical resource utilisation and timeliness of access to specific aspects of a standard care pathway for breast cancer at tertiary centres in sub-Saharan Africa.

Design: Data were retrospectively abstracted from records of patients with breast cancer treated within a prespecified 2-year period between 2014 and 2017. The study protocol was approved by local institutional review boards.

Setting: Six tertiary care institutions in Ghana, Kenya and Nigeria were included.

Participants: Health records of 862 patients with breast cancer were analysed: 299 in Ghana; 314 in Kenya; and 249 in Nigeria.

Interventions: As directed by the treating physician.

Outcome measures: Parameters selected for evaluation included healthcare resource and use, medical procedure turnaround times and out-of-pocket (OOP) payment patterns.

Results: Use of mammography or breast ultrasonography was <45% in all three countries. Across the three countries, 78%-88% of patients completed tests for hormone receptors and human epidermal growth factor receptor 2 (HER2). Most patients underwent mastectomy (64%-67%) or breast-conserving surgery (15%-26%). Turnaround times for key procedures, such as pathology, surgery and systemic therapy, ranged from 1 to 5 months. In Ghana and Nigeria, most patients (87%-93%) paid for diagnostic tests entirely OOP versus 30%-32% in Kenya. Similarly, proportions of patients paying OOP only for treatments were high: 45%-79% in Ghana, 8%-20% in Kenya and 72%-89% in Nigeria. Among patients receiving HER2-targeted therapy, the average number of cycles was five for those paying OOP only versus 14 for those with some insurance coverage.

Conclusions: Patients with breast cancer treated in tertiary facilities in sub-Saharan Africa lack access to timely diagnosis and modern systemic therapies. Most patients in Ghana and Nigeria bore the full cost of their healthcare and were more likely to be employed and have secondary or postsecondary education. Access to screening/diagnosis and appropriate care is likely to be substantively lower for the general population.

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Creative Commons License

Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.