Organizations join forces to confront global cancer crisis
UN meeting this month will focus on strategies to combat cancer in developing countries
Article first published online: 19 AUG 2011
Copyright © 2011 American Cancer Society
Volume 117, Issue 17, pages 3869–3870, 1 September 2011
How to Cite
Printz, C. (2011), Organizations join forces to confront global cancer crisis. Cancer, 117: 3869–3870. doi: 10.1002/cncr.26463
- Issue published online: 19 AUG 2011
- Article first published online: 19 AUG 2011
Cancer patients lying on the floor of a hospital without food or water, waiting for a bed. No available radiation or chemotherapy services. One in 5 patients abandoned in the hospital by families who cannot afford their care.
These are some of the grim scenarios in Honduras described by Angel Sanchez, MD, an American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO) International Cancer Corps (ICC) volunteer. The country has just 2 oncologists for the more than 700 new patients diagnosed with cancer every year, and that number might be considerably higher because statistics are not accurately recorded, he notes.
“Although we have good surgeons, most patients come in with very advanced disease and surgery is not an option,” Dr. Sanchez says.“We have to educate our patients and doctors about cancer, and we have to improve our skills because of our lack of technology.”
The country's collaboration with ASCO volunteers began more than 3 years ago and has resulted in medical lectures and rounds with physicians and the development of protocols.
The situation in Honduras is just one example of how developing and middle-income countries are struggling to deal with the global cancer burden. According to the World Health Organization, approximately 7.6 million people die of cancer each year, which is more than die of human immunodeficiency virus (HIV)/acquired immunodeficiency syndrome (AIDS), malaria, and tuberculosis combined. And the worldwide cancer incidence is expected to increase in the next decade, from 12.7 million annually in 2008 to more than 20 million by 2030, with the majority of cases occurring in low-income and middle-income countries.
“The situation in these countries is serious but far from hopeless,” says Tanja Cufer, MD, PhD, chair of ASCO's International Affairs Committee.
United Nations Meeting to Unite Cancer Groups
ASCO, the American Cancer Society (ACS), and the Union for International Cancer Control (UICC) are among the numerous organizations that have joined to encourage President Barack Obama and other world leaders to personally attend the United Nations (UN) High-level Meeting on Non-communicable Diseases (NCDs), which will be held September 19 and 20 in NewYork City. UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has called NCDs “a public health emergency in slow motion.”
The global statistics of cancer are sobering, but putting a face on the disease gives it a human perspective that amplifies the voice of millions who are affected globally.—John Seffrin, PhD
Since the end of World War II, the UN has held 28 high level meetings, but only 1 dealt with health issues: a General Assembly Special Session in 2001 on the global AIDS crisis. That meeting led to an unprecedented international response to HIV/AIDS and ultimately resulted in the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria.
NCDs, including cancer, heart disease, and diabetes, account for approximately 63% of the world's deaths each year, and many of these deaths and associated suffering can be prevented based on current knowledge, according to John Seffrin,PhD,Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of the ACS.
“We have incredible treatments available today, but they're only available to about 10% of the world's population,” says UICC President Eduardo Cazap, MD, PhD. “Cancer and other chronic diseases are not on the political agenda of many world governments.”
Drs. Cazap, Seffrin, and ASCO CEO Allen Lichter, MD, spoke at a press briefing on June 6 at ASCO's 47th Annual Meeting in Chicago, Illinois, to announce the organizations' efforts to bring cancer and other NCDs to the forefront of the world's attention.
“NCDs are 1 of 3 most likely and severe risks to the global economy, and yet they receive less than 3% of global development funds,” says Dr. Cufer, who moderated the briefing. “They also are entirely absent from the UN's millennium goals.”
The 3 cancer organizations also are highlighting the issue through the World Cancer Declaration, which outlines 11 targets to be achieved by 2020, including:
A substantial decline in global tobacco consumption, obesity, and alcohol intake;
Improved access to care;
Universal vaccination programs for hepatitis B and human papillomavirus to prevent liver and cervical cancer; and
Increased training for health care workers on different aspects of cancer control.
At press time, approximately 230,000 people had signed the declaration, and the groups hoped to have 1 million signatures by September 2011.
The action-oriented outcomes document will serve as a reference for the final UN outcomes statement, which will be voted on by UN members at the September meeting.
Among key elements of the plan are leadership, prevention, priority interventions, international cooperation, and monitoring progress and accountability.
In addition, the ACS organized an effort on June 18 to 20 called “We Can, We Should, WeWill Conquer Cancer,” a grassroots, survivor-led event at the UN at which advocates from around the world hand delivered their personal stories and asked UN representatives to make NCDs a global priority.
The cancer epidemic will require the attention of world leaders to make it a global health priority—that's why we believe the UN meeting is so critically important.—Allen Lichter, MD
The ACS also has launched a new website, available at http://global.cancer.org, in which survivors can share their stories. “The global statistics of cancer are sobering, but putting a face on the disease gives it a human perspective that amplifies the voice of millions who are affected globally,”ACS CEO Dr. Seffrin says.
Expanding Training in Other Countries
Meanwhile, ASCO plans to expand the training it provides to health care workers in other countries (including Vietnam and Ethiopia), helping them to gain specific skills and to emphasize a team approach to cancer management. In Ethiopia, which until recently had only 1 oncology specialist, volunteers will help start the country's first clinical oncology residency program.
To date, ASCO volunteers have trained more than 2000 physicians in developing countries in the principles of multidisciplinary cancer care adapted to their unique practice setting, Dr. Lichter says. The organization also launched a“train-the-trainer”program to create trainers in cancer management. This past year,12 trainers completed the program in SouthAmerica.“But we know our efforts alone are not enough,”Dr.Lichter says. “The cancer epidemic will require the attention of world leaders to make it a global health priority—that's why we believe the UN meeting is so critically important.”