WHO fears 60% rise in cancer cases, tasks countries on improved cancer services

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The World Health Organisation (WHO) has urged for critical improvement of cancer services in low-and middle-income countries, warning that cancer cases will increase by 60 per cent over the next two decades, if current trends continue.

WHO made the call in a statement posted on its official website on Tuesday to mark the World Cancer Day on February 4, 2020.

It said the greatest increase estimated at 81 per cent in new cases will occur in low-and middle-income countries, where survival rates are currently lowest.

“This is largely because these countries have had to focus limited health resources on combating infectious diseases and improving maternal and child health, while health services are not equipped to prevent, diagnose and treat cancers.

“In 2019, more than 90 per cent of high-income countries reported that comprehensive treatment services for cancer were available in the public health system compared to less than 15 per cent of low-income countries,” it said.

Dr Ren Minghui, Assistant Director-General, Universal Health Coverage/Communicable and Non-communicable Diseases at WHO, said the disparity was a wake-up call to tackle the unacceptable inequalities between cancer services in rich and poor countries.

“If people have access to primary care and referral systems, then cancer can be detected early, treated effectively and cured. Cancer should not be a death sentence for anyone, anywhere,” Minghui said in the statement.

According to WHO, progress in poorer countries is achievable.

“WHO and the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) are releasing two coordinated reports on World Cancer Day which is on Feb. 4,’’ it said.

It noted that the report was in response to governments’ calls for more research into the scope and potential policies and programmes to improve cancer control.

Dr Tedros Ghebreyesus, Director-General, WHO, said: “At least seven million lives could be saved over the next decade by identifying the most appropriate science for each country’s situation.

“By basing strong cancer responses on universal health coverage and by mobilising different stakeholders to work together.”

Dr Elisabete Weiderpass, Director of IARC, said the past 50 years had seen tremendous advances in research on cancer prevention and treatment.

“Deaths from cancer have been reduced.

“High-income countries have adopted prevention, early diagnosis and screening programmes, which together with better treatment, have contributed to an estimated 20 per cent reduction in the probability of premature mortality between 2000 and 2015.

“Low-income countries only saw a reduction of five per cent.

“We need to see everyone benefitting equally,” Weiderpass said in the statement.

Weiderpass noted that the challenge would be for countries to select treatments, balancing considerations including cost, feasibility and effectiveness.

“Each government is tasked with choosing the appropriate innovative cancer therapies, while recognisng that established treatments, many of which are very effective and affordable, can provide benefits for cancer without causing financial hardship,” she said.

WHO highlighted a wide range of proven interventions to prevent new cancer cases which includes controlling tobacco use that is responsible for 25 per cent of cancer deaths.

Vaccinating against hepatitis B to prevent liver cancer and eliminating cervical cancer by vaccinating against Human papillomavirus (HPV).

It listed others as screening and treatment, implementing high-impact cancer management interventions that bring value for money and ensuring access to palliative care including pain relief.

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