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Science Magazine Reports On Recent Push To Make Preventing, Treating Cancer A Global Priority

Science Magazine reports on the recent push to make preventing and treating cancer a global priority, particularly in developing countries, where it’s estimated “less than 5% of the world’s cancer resources are [currently] spent.”

Noting the huge disparities in survival rates for pediatric and adult cancers between developed and developing countries, the piece describes recent calls from WHO Director-General Margaret Chan to make cancer “a vital part of the global health agenda,” the ongoing work of the Global Task Force on Expanded Access to Cancer Care and Control in Developing Countries, and how the disease will be a topic of discussion at the upcoming U.N. High-level Meeting on Non-Communicable Diseases in September.

“The obstacles [in tackling cancer in developing countries] are major, and some people question whether battling cancer is the wisest use of scarce global-health money,” the magazine writes. However, the growing number of cancer cases in developing countries, combined with the challenges associated with treating cancer in developing countries, has captured the attention of health experts. “Diagnosis is complex, requiring competently staffed and well-equipped pathology labs. Physicians in many countries are in short supply; oncologists are extremely scarce. There aren’t enough surgeons or operating rooms; 30 countries – half of them in Africa – don’t have a single radiation therapy machine,” the magazine writes.

The article describes several ways to approach the prevention and treatment of certain cancers in resource-limited settings, including driving down the cost of several cancer drugs, and how non-profit and hospital groups are working to build up expertise and infrastructure to extend cancer care in developing countries.

The article includes quotes from Gene Bukhman, head of Harvard’s Program in Global Non-Communicable Disease and Social Change; Paul Farmer, Partners In Health co-founder; Felicia Knaul, a health economist at HMS; and Lawrence Shulman, chief medical officer at the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute (Enserink, 3/25).