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Keywords:

  • breast cancer;
  • cancer control;
  • delivery of health care;
  • evidence-based guidelines;
  • health care rationing;
  • health care reform;
  • health planning;
  • health policy;
  • limited-resource countries;
  • resource allocation

Abstract:   As the largest cancer killer of women around the globe, breast cancer adversely impacts countries at all levels of economic development. Despite major advances in the early detection, diagnosis, and treatment of breast cancer, health care ministries face multitiered challenges to create and support health care programs that can improve breast cancer outcomes. In addition to the financial and organizational problems inherent in any health care system, breast health programs are hindered by a lack of recognition of cancer as a public health priority, trained health care personnel shortages and migration, public and health care provider educational deficits, and social barriers that impede patient entry into early detection and cancer treatment programs. No perfect health care system exists, even in the wealthiest countries. Based on inevitable economic and practical constraints, all health care systems are compelled to make trade-offs among four factors: access to care, scope of service, quality of care, and cost containment. Given these trade-offs, guidelines can define stratified approaches by which economically realistic incremental improvements can be sequentially implemented within the context of resource constraints to improve breast health care. Disease-specific “vertical” programs warrant “horizontal” integration with existing health care systems in limited-resource countries. The Breast Health Global Initiative (BHGI) Health Care Systems and Public Policy Panel defined a stratified framework outlining recommended breast health care interventions for each of four incremental levels of resources (basic, limited, enhanced, and maximal). Reallocation of existing resources and integration of a breast health care program with existing programs and infrastructure can potentially improve outcomes in a cost-sensitive manner. This adaptable framework can be used as a tool by policymakers for program planning and research design to make best use of available resources to improve breast health care in a given limited-resource setting.