When a colleague in Mali was diagnosed with cancer last year, Joseph Camardo, M.D., senior vice president of Global Health at Celgene, wasn’t surprised that she flew to Tunisia for treatment. Having visited the West African country twice in the past two years, Camardo was familiar with its limited health care resources.
“The most advanced cancer care isn’t available routinely in Mali or most low- to middle-income countries,” he said. “So many other diseases, including HIV, malaria, and other infections, presented such need that not many people anticipated the burden of cancer in the developing world, so the infrastructure needed to treat cancer has not caught up.”
While the death rate from all cancers fell 25 percent between 1991 and 2014 in the United States, the same is not true in some low- and middle-income countries. World Cancer Day is an opportunity to reflect on how we collectively and individually can help improve cancer care in the developed world and beyond, according to Camardo.
Taking place each year on February 4, Word Cancer Day aims to raise awareness about the disease and to encourage governments and individuals to take action in the fight against cancer. The ‘We can. I can.’ theme for 2016 to 2018 campaign takes a look at the steps that everyone—both together and individually—can help reduce the burden of cancer.
According to a report from the American Cancer Society (ACS), 57 percent of the estimated 14 million new cancer cases in 2012 occurred in low- and middle-income countries. The burden of the disease is expected to continue shifting to the developing world as the population there grows and ages.
This shifting burden is not just a concern for developing countries. Worldwide, the economic impact of cancer in 2008 was $895 billion, according to estimates from the ACS. And that’s not even including medical costs.
Helping developing countries fight cancer is not only the humane thing to do but also beneficial to the global economy.
Meanwhile, the potential economic gains from improving cancer care could be substantial. According to one study, a 1 percent reduction in cancer mortality would provide an estimated $500 billion benefit to the United States alone.
“Helping developing countries fight cancer is not just the humane thing to do but also beneficial to the global economy,” Camardo said. “If you don’t treat people in these regions, their workforces are not going to be as strong, their economies will not grow, and they will remain a burden on the global economy.”
Patients in these countries often lack access to screening, diagnosis and treatment. These health care systems were designed to fight infectious diseases, such as malaria, tuberculosis and AIDS, ensuring that vaccines and treatments are available across the country. As success has been achieved and deaths from infections have fallen, however, these same systems are revealing themselves as unprepared for the subsequent rise in cancer diagnoses, according to Camardo.
A BABY RECEIVES A VACCINE AT A MEDICAL CLINIC IN KENYA. MOST HEALTH CARE SYSTEMS IN LOW- AND MIDDLE-INCOME COUNTRIES WERE SET UP TO FIGHT INFECTIOUS DISEASE RATHER THAN NONCOMMUNICABLE DISEASES SUCH AS CANCER
Improving cancer care in developing countries will certainly be a formidable challenge. “When you try to solve one problem, you find another that has to be solved first,” Camardo said. “For example, before you can bring doctors and diagnostic equipment to people in rural regions, you need to build roads. Many cancer therapies require refrigeration, but electricity is not available in some areas.”
Despite the challenges, Camardo is optimistic that differences can be made through public-private partnerships—such as the Academic Model Providing Access to Healthcare (AMPATH) initiative. Recognizing that the growing burden of cancer is reaching a crisis point in developing countries, Celgene and other partners have helped expand the services offered by the AMPATH-Oncology Institute. The effort provides cancer care for 20 million people in western Kenya, and nearly 20,000 patient visits to AMPATH-Oncology are made each year.
Camardo hopes that tangible results like these will show governments that they have an opportunity to move their countries forward with a long-term commitment to improving the lives of their citizens, building cancer care competence and structure while maintaining the fight against HIV, malaria, tuberculosis, and other infections.
“Flying cancer patients out of developing countries such as Mali is not a sustainable solution,” Camardo said. “It’s going to take a long time to build the infrastructure for cancer care in developing countries, but we have to start somewhere, and we have to start today.”
To learn more about the goals and vision for the partnership, visit the Accelerated Access website.