An opposition Member of Parliament made himself an object of ridicule on Tuesday after he made unsubstantiated claims on the floor of Ghana’s Parliament that eating “too much fufu, banku and kokonte” can lead to cancer, a disease caused by an uncontrolled division of abnormal cells in a part of the body.
Justice Joe Appiah, MP for Ablekuma North, made the controversial claims while contributing to a statement made on the floor, calling for a more robust national action against the spread of cancer.
“Mr. Speaker, Ghanaians like taking too much salt and fufu, banku and kokonte in excess. If these starchy foods are minimized and excessive training – exercising our bodies– I don’t think we will have cancer in this country,” he said. His comments instantly made himself a laughing stock.
Fufu is a staple food of the Asante, the Akyem, Bono and Fante peoples of the Akan ethnic group in Ghana. The meal is made by boiling starchy food crops like cassava, yam or plantain and then pounding them in a mortar and pestle into a dough-like consistency.
Banku or Akple on the other hand, is made with fermented corn or cassava dough mixed proportionally and cooked in hot water into a smooth, whitish consistent paste. It is usually served with soup, stew or a pepper sauce with fish or meat.
Also, Kokonte, produced with Cassava flour is a delicious, satisfying staple much like banku and fufu.
On his feet, Ablekuma North MP, Joe Appiah, told Parliament: “Mr. Speaker, cancer can be prevented if Ghanaians live on organic foods. Mr. Speaker, Organic foods can be found in our markets, on our farm lands, we can grow organic foods, but Ghanaians are fond of taking canned foods and these causes cancer.”
His claims in a House fairly packed with journalists and visiting students compelled his colleague NPP MP for Manhyia South, Dr. Matthew Opoku Prempeh, to rise on a point of order.
The trained dental surgeon said, “Mr. Speaker, we can all agree that Members can speak with passion and excitement butI am cautioning him [Joe Appiah] not to make unsubstantiated claims about cancer.”
Dr Prempeh said, Joe Appiah “will win a Noble Prize in medicine if his statement were to be true”.
Despite Dr Prempeh’s intervention, Joe Appiah did not withdraw his comments apparently because the presiding Speaker, Ebo Barton Odro, did not ask him to.
On Tuesday, World Health Organization scientists released a new report in which they warned that the globe is facing a “tidal wave” of cancer and that restrictions on alcohol and sugar need to be considered.
A BBC report quoted the WHO as predicting that the number of cancer cases will reach 24 million a year by 2035, but half could be prevented.
The WHO said there was now a “real need” to focus on cancer prevention by tackling smoking, obesity and drinking.
The World Cancer Research Fund said there was an “alarming” level of naivety about diet’s role in cancer.
Fourteen million people a year are diagnosed with cancer, but that is predicted to increase to 19 million by 2025, 22 million by 2030 and 24 million by 2035.
The developing world, according to the WHO, will bear the brunt of the extra cases.
Chris Wild, the director of the WHO’s International Agency for Research on Cancer, told the BBC: “The global cancer burden is increasing and quite markedly, due predominately to the ageing of the populations and population growth.
“If we look at the cost of treatment of cancers, it is spiraling out of control, even for the high-income countries. Prevention is absolutely critical, and it’s been somewhat neglected.”
The WHO’s World Cancer Report 2014 said the major sources of preventable cancer included:
Obesity and inactivity
Radiation, both from the sun and medical scans
Air pollution and other environmental factors
Delayed parenthood, having fewer children and not breastfeeding
For most countries, breast cancer is the most common cancer in women. However, cervical cancer dominates in large parts of Africa.
The human papillomavirus (HPV) is a major cause. It is thought wider use of the HPV and other vaccines could prevent hundreds of thousands of cancers.
One of the report’s editors, Dr Bernard Stewart from the University of New South Wales in Australia, said prevention had a “crucial role in combating the tidal wave of cancer which we see coming across the world”.
Dr Stewart said human behaviour was behind many cancers.
He said it was not the role of the International Agency for Research on Cancer to dictate what should be done.
But he added: “In relation to alcohol, for example, we’re all aware of the acute effects, whether it’s car accidents or assaults, but there’s a burden of disease that’s not talked about because it’s simply not recognised, specifically involving cancer.
“The extent to which we modify the availability of alcohol, the labelling of alcohol, the promotion of alcohol and the price of alcohol, those things should be on the agenda.”
He said there was a similar argument to be had with sugar fueling obesity, which in turn affected cancer risk.