Global Plan to Tackle Growing Cancer Crisis in Developing Countries

Zosia Chustecka

September 01, 2008

September 1, 2008 — A global template for tackling the growing cancer crisis in developing countries was announced yesterday at the close of the World Cancer Congress in Geneva, Switzerland. The plan proposes 11 action steps, and builds on the World Cancer Declaration adopted 2 years ago.

Although survival rates from cancer are improving in the more affluent countries, both incident and death rates are worsening in the developing world, and this gap is expected to widen. Worldwide, cancer accounted for 7.9 million deaths in 2007, but 72% of these deaths occurred in low- and middle-income countries, where resources available for cancer control are limited or nonexistent.

"The rise of cancer in less affluent countries is an impending disaster," said Margaret Chan, MD, director-general of the World Health Organization. "The time is right to make cancer control a developmental priority."

The plan for tackling the impending crisis, contained in the World Cancer Declaration, was put together by a group of 63 cancer experts and policy makers. The group highlighted the need to reduce tobacco consumption, obesity, and alcohol intake, and proposed implementing universal vaccination programs to prevent cancer, specifically for hepatitis B to prevent liver cancer and for human papillomavirus to prevent cervical cancer.

Other steps include improving the provision of pain relief for cancer patients, particularly opioid analgesics, which are hardly used in developing countries. Around 90% of worldwide morphine use occurs in Europe and North America, the experts pointed out.

Another step proposed was for public education campaigns to dispel myths and misconceptions about cancer. About one third of cancer cases can be prevented, and another third can be cured if detected early and treated properly, the panel said. Tobacco is the single largest preventable cause of a range of different cancers, yet smoking continues to increase in low- and middle-income countries and remains a major global problem, experts pointed out.

The plan was put together during a summit cochaired by Mary Robinson, former United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, and Franco Cavalli, MD, outgoing president of the International Union Against Cancer (UICC). Dr. Cavalli is a director of the Oncology Institute of Southern Switzerland, in Bellinzona, and professor of medical oncology at the University of Bern, in Switzerland, and the University of Varese, in Italy.

Cancer control is "a question of human rights and, above all, it is a question of human dignity," Ms. Robinson commented. "Adoption of the World Cancer Declaration is another step in a real commitment — a vision — of how to tackle this huge world-health issue," she added.

The group recommended targets for 2020 and defined a list of priority actions. Progress reports on the targets will be produced every 2 years, to coincide with the biannual World Cancer Congress; the next one will be held in Beijing, China, August 18 to 21, 2010.

Details about the World Cancer Declaration, including an option to sign in support for the plan, can be found on the UICC website.

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