Geneva Health Forum Archive

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Cancer in Developing Countries

Author(s): P. Hartmann1
Affiliation(s): 1Chronic Diseases Prevention and Management, World Health Organization, Geneva, Switzerland
Key messages:

1 – Cancer is a disease increasingly affecting developing countries.
2 – WHO and Member States have a major role to play.
3 - Cancer is a complex health problem that needs human and financial resources and political commitment.

Summary (max 100 words):

Cancer is the world’s second-leading cause of death, killing 7.6 million annually, and is expected to increase to 11.5 million by 2030 if nothing is done. Its impact has long been, and continues to be, felt in high-income countries, which for decades have borne the brunt of the world’s cancer burden. But this burden is now shifting to low and middle-income countries, where cancer and other non-communicable diseases are replacing infectious diseases as the main cause of death. Effective cancer control requires a comprehensive national cancer control policy and programme with adequate resource allocation, development of diagnostic and therapeutic capacity and good resource utilization in palliative care. High levels of female illiteracy, gender discrimination and other socioeconomic inequalities, as well as lack of awareness of the risk factors and poor enforcement of tobacco, alcohol, and food legislation, all hinder the efforts of cancer control programmes. Widespread inaccessibility of preventive, early detection and treatment services for large segments of the populations due to the geographical and financial constraints contribute to poor health outcomes. As out-of-pocket payment for the treatment of cancer could economically devastate families and individuals, the creation of appropriate financing mechanisms to cover the cost of treatment needs to be addressed. The role of WHO to act against cancer is further strengthened by being integrated into the broader framework of the WHO action plan for the prevention and control of non-communicable diseases and World Health Assembly resolution (WHA60.23). The resolution requests Member States to incorporate into their national health programs strategies for public health interventions designed to reduce the incidence of non-communicable diseases. Cancer is a particularly complex health problem and so far has received little or inadequate attention in developing countries. This comes from the fact that extensive human and financial resources are required. This acts as a disincentive to national policy makers in poor countries and to international agencies. Therefore, within the developing countries, available resources for cancer remain grossly inadequate compared to the huge problem cancer constitutes. Cancer will become an increasingly important cause of mortality in developing countries as their populations expand, age increases and living habits of wealthier nations, including diets and especially smoking will be followed.

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