World Cancer Day

{Photo: Mark Tuschman, Kenya}Photo: Mark Tuschman, Kenya

Not Beyond Us. This is the theme of World Cancer Day 2015. But how will we achieve it? Cancer can seem insurmountable. The global cancer burden is great. In 2012, 8.2 million people died from cancer-related causes—most of them in Africa, Asia, and Central and South America, which experiences more cases and more deaths than anywhere else: 60 percent of the 14 million new cancer cases annually and 70 percent of all cancer-related deaths occur in the developing world. The same countries bearing the brunt of the cancer burden have the fewest resources to tackle it.

Still we know and remind one another today, the 4th of February: We can and must stop vaccine-preventable cancers and reduce preventable cancer deaths. We must reduce the cancer inequities.

Cancer, you are not beyond us.  

Among women, cervical cancer is one of the deadliest -- and most easily preventable -- cancers.  Women in the developing world account for 85 percent of the 270,000 deaths every year.  Yet we know that effective prevention, treatment and care are possible.

{Photo credit: Warren Zelman.}Photo credit: Warren Zelman.

This post originally appeared on Devex.

Cancer is gaining ground in the developing world.

People in poor countries are more likely to die from cancer, and die far younger, than people in rich countries. Today, on World Cancer Day, this cancer divide continues to worsen. Even as misconceptions have receded, the reality hasn’t.

There’s been political progress at the global level, including the 2011 U.N. resolution on noncommunicable diseases like cancer. Yet the traditional mode of global assistance for developing countries — aid funding — hasn’t been forthcoming. Without it, the NCD agenda has gained little traction in those countries.

Perhaps the answer isn’t countries at all.

{Photo credit: Rui Pires.}Photo credit: Rui Pires.

In the beginning of my medical career during the early 1990’s, I witnessed the devastating effects of HIV & AIDS.  Nearly 60 percent of the hospital beds I attended were filled with AIDS patients, many of them my close friends and colleagues. At the time, little was known about the AIDS epidemic; no effective treatments were available; and as a physician, I watched helplessly as day after day those closest to me suffered until their death.  

Today, almost three decades later, thanks to increased prevention and access to care and treatment for HIV, most of these hospital beds have emptied of HIV & AIDS patients.  Now, these same beds are filled by those suffering from preventable chronic diseases, including vaccine-preventable cancers.

Today, February 4, we commemorate World Cancer Day, joining the global community to raise awareness about the global cancer epidemic, and renew our commitment to address cancer in low-and middle-income countries (LMICs).

{Photo credit: Mike Wang, courtesy of Photoshare.}Photo credit: Mike Wang, courtesy of Photoshare.

In Kenya, cancer is ranked third as a cause of mortality and morbidity after communicable and cardiovascular diseases.

The Ministry of Health, supported by the USAID-funded, Management Sciences for Health (MSH)-led, Health Commodities and Services Management (MSH/HCSM) Program, led the development and launch of the First National Guidelines for Cancer Management in Kenya, in collaboration with World Health Organization (WHO), Africa Cancer Foundation, and other stakeholders.

The Cancer Guidelines are intended to help increase access to cancer screening, early diagnosis, referral and management of diagnosed cases.

In Kenya, cancer-related services have previously been available only in the top private hospitals and the public teaching and referral hospitals, which have restricted access to a few well-to- do individuals who can afford the related costs. The guidelines de-mystify cancer management and have outlined the core health system requirements needed to offer services in the different tiers of health care, including: community, primary care, county referral and national referral hospitals.

Mildred's Story: Treating HIV and Chronic Non-Communicable Diseases.Mildred's Story: Treating HIV and Chronic Non-Communicable Diseases.

Fact or fiction?

  • About 70% of all cancer deaths occur in low- and middle-income countries.
  • Nearly 30% of cancer deaths could be prevented.
  • Many cancers (such as breast, cervical and colorectal cancer) can be cured, if detected early and treated adequately.
  • Cancers are killing more people in developing countries than HIV & AIDS, malaria, and tuberculosis combined.

Answer? Fact. All of them are true.

Cancer is not only a disease of wealthy and elderly nations. The cancer burden on low- and middle-income countries is vast---and cancer deaths are projected to continue rising, with an estimated 13.1 million deaths in 2030. Living in poverty increases the risk of developing cancer, and dramatically reduces the odds of being treated. For example, 90% of child leukemia patients in the United States survive—but in developing countries, the opposite is true: nearly 90% die.

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