AstraZeneca Tackles Breast Cancer in South Africa

Strengthening healthcare capabilities

At AstraZeneca, increasing access to healthcare is one of our strategic priorities and a key focus of our sustainability strategy. We tailor our activity according to local issues and focus on developing strong collaborations with a wide range of partners to help strengthen healthcare capabilities, particularly in developing economies with limited healthcare infrastructure.

Breast cancer is a growing health problem in South Africa. Apart from non-melanoma skin cancer, breast cancer is the most common cancer in women, with a lifetime risk of 1 in 26 in South Africa, according to the 2012 National Cancer Registry (NCR).[1]

A portrait of a Xhosa woman wearing her white traditional Sangoma dress, lit by the early morning sunrise. (Photo courtesy Astra Zeneca)

The burden of breast cancer in South Africa is compounded by poor education, a lack of awareness of breast health issues, cultural barriers and limited access to healthcare facilities. Additionally, many women delay seeking treatment for symptoms. This has hindered efforts by the South African government to combat the disease among low-income communities.

In 2011, AstraZeneca responded to this need to reduce the burden of breast cancer on the national health system in South Africa, and launched the Phakamisa programme (meaning ‘upliftment’ or ‘elevate’ in Zulu and Xhosa). The programme is built on three key pillars: training and development, education and awareness, and access. It brings together different organisations to help raise breast cancer awareness, increase early diagnosis, and improve access to treatment and effective support networks.

African mother holding her son. (Photo courtesy Astra Zeneca)

In collaboration with South Africa’s Foundation for Professional Development, AstraZeneca provides accredited courses for healthcare professionals in early detection and cancer diagnosis, treatment and care. Additionally, AstraZeneca partners with the Cancer Association of South Africa and the Breast Health Foundation to train teams of volunteers and counsellors as Phakamisa ‘Navigators’ to raise awareness and support patients in the community.

Since the launch of the Phakamisa programme, more than 600 healthcare professionals have been provided with courses and 400 people have been trained as Phakamisa Navigators. Continued education for the Navigators has also covered socially relevant issues, such as cervical cancer, HIV, gender-based violence and child abuse.

The Phakamisa programme is now in its seventh year of operation and through its Phakamisa Navigators, has reached over 1.75 million women in South Africa.

Rodney Gillespie, Country President South Africa at AstraZeneca, described the programme’s impact:

‘The primary aims of the Navigators are to help with early detection, diagnosis and to support those patients who are diagnosed with breast cancer in the public system. Through their interaction with people while raising breast health awareness in their communities, close to 3,800 malignant lumps have been identified and referred for effective treatment – something that might not have been discovered without the services of the Phakamisa Navigators.’

AstraZeneca is committed to bettering the lives of cancer patients and their families.

Gillespie says:

‘AstraZeneca’s ambition is to impact 3.5 million people in South Africa through the Phakamisa programme by 2021. AstraZeneca is also working to ensure that our comprehensive range of hormonal treatments is made available to the health service in a cost-effective way.’


[1] South African National Cancer Registry. Cancer in South Africa 2012 Johannesburg. Accessed 1 May 2018