By Science Africa Correspondent

With cancer accounting for 50,000 new cases and 34,400 deaths annually in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), the government has partnered with Roche, a global pharmaceuticals and diagnostics company, to expand access to cancer medicines and health care services for its populace.

The five-year partnership increases investment in programmes that strengthen the country’s health care system and infrastructure, with Roche contributing a significant amount of the co-investment.

It will also provide for the establishment of seven new cancer labs, three of which will open in 2021. The first cancer lab at the University Clinics of Kinshasa opens today and the new partnership which aims to diagnose and treat up to 1,000 patients in 2021, at no cost to the patient.

Further, the government and Roche will also work together to strengthen health care provider capacity through in-depth training and diagnostic capacity and capability building. The partnership will also invest in scientific education and training for five oncologists per year to improve the sustainability of the cancer eco-system beyond the term of the agreement.

“By being a partner and contributing to solutions that strengthen the health system, we can make it easier for patients to access health information, screenings, trained health care professionals and appropriate treatments, including access to Roche’s most innovative medicines,” said Jean-Claude Vimpy-Kula, General Manager for Roche Congo in a statement.

The priorities set forth in the agreement between the DRC government and Roche is the result of a co-creation process that began in October 2019 with more than 80 Congolese health care professionals and members of civil society to conduct an in-depth analysis and review of the current cancer care system and cancer patient journey.

This is the second partnership of its kind for Roche in Africa. In 2019, Roche signed a similar partnership agreement with Côte d’Ivoire to strengthen healthcare infrastructure and optimize patient care. The agreement provided all Ivorian cancer, hepatitis B, chronic renal anemia and hemophilia patients with unlimited access to Roche medicines for free.

Roche is a leading biotech company, with more than thirty medicines which it has developed being included in the World Health Organization Model Lists of Essential Medicines, among them life-saving antibiotics, antimalarial and cancer medicines.