NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Fast Cancer Growth In Poorer Countries -- Much Can Be Done, With Inexpensive Medications And Equipment

August 18, 2010

Eminent cancer and public health experts are urging governments and agencies to focus seriously on cancer care and prevention in poorer nations, according to a study published in the Lancet.  A great deal could be done using generic, off-patent medications, educating people, and training physicians and community workers, conclude the authors. 

  • In 1970 lower- and middle-income countries (LMICs) accounted for 15 percent of global cancer cases.
  • In 2008 the figure rose to 56 percent; experts estimate that by 2030 the percentage will reach 70 percent.
  • With nearly two-thirds of global annual cancer cases occurring in LMICs, it is today a leading cause of death.
  • The case fatality from cancer - estimated incidence to mortality ratio -- is 75 percent in low-income countries, compared to 46 percent in developed nations. 

"Our focus is on fixing the harsh inequity and disparity that exists with cancer treatment between the developed and the developing world.  Having the chance to live should not be an accident of geography," says Princess Dina Mired of Jordan, Honorary Co-President of the Global Task Force on Expanded Access to Cancer Care and Control in Developing Countries (GTF.CCC) and co-author of the paper. 

Cancer is a significant cause of premature death in most parts of the world.  Unfortunately, it is a neglected health problem in poorer nations, says Dr. Julio Frenk. 

"To correct this situation we must address the staggering 5/80 cancer disequilibrium (referring to the fact that LMIC account for almost 80 percent of the burden of disease due to cancer, yet receive only 5 percent of global resources devoted to deal with this emerging challenge)," says Frenk.

The following initiatives could help address the disparities which currently exist worldwide, without having to use high-priced on-patent medications or other equipment: 

  • Anti-tobacco campaigns; smoking is a huge risk factor for cancer but it is still rising in many LMICs, while it is dropping in developed nations.
  • Education about early detection and screening.
  • HPV (human papillomavirus) vaccination programs to prevent cervical cancer.
  • Hepatitis B virus vaccination programs to prevent liver cancer.  

Source: Christian Nordqvist, "Fast Cancer Growth In Poorer Countries - Much Can Be Done, With Inexpensive Medications And Equipment," Medical News Today, August 18, 2010; based upon: Paul Farmer et al., "Expansion of cancer care and control in countries of low and middle income: a call to action," The Lancet, August 16, 2010. 

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