As World Cancer Day approaches on February 4th, the global community prepares again to raise awareness of prevention and treatment efforts for these horrible diseases that kills so many. It may seem as though we all know someone who has been affected directly by cancer. People living in developed countries are constantly reminded of dangerous exposures, the need for screenings and the variety of treatment available. However, for many people living in LMICs, cancer is a relatively new worry. In these regions, there tends to be minimal access to information, screening and treatment options.
However, as a development community we must wrestle with this fact: The majority of cancer cases (57%) now occur in the developing world.
As maternal mortality and infectious disease rates – two areas that have been the focal point of global health dialogues and funding – decrease, the burden of non-communicable diseases (NCDs) is increasing. Put more simply, more people in LMICs are living long enough to develop cancer – age being the number one risk factor for most types of cancer. In many LMICs, late diagnosis leads to late treatment then to premature death.
Private businesses have begun to develop programs to address the disparity in cancer treatment between rich and poor countries. In the run up to World Cancer Day, we wanted to highlight three such innovative programs from IBM Health Corps, GE Healthcare, and a partnership between Pfizer and Cipla.
IBM Health Corps
A unique twist on CSR, IBM Health Corps is a pro bono initiative that employs five to six IBM experts for three weeks at a time to work with partner organizations on addressing health challenges. In the hopes of reducing cancer treatment inequality, IBM Health Corps developed ChemoQuant, a chemotherapy-forecasting tool that merges cancer care processes in Sub-Saharan Africa, epidemiological data and treatment guidelines.
“With the tool, public health officials can track local cancer trends and place chemotherapy orders that are timely and sizeable enough to qualify for volume discounts” –Jen Crozier of IBM Health Corps.
GE Healthcare + Roche Diagnostics
GE Healthcare and Roche Diagnostics plan to release an exciting tool this year in the hopes of detecting cancer earlier and more accurately and to create more individualized treatments. The data-driven software will merge in-vivo and in-vitro diagnostics. By integrating patient information, latest research and clinical studies the digital platform will aim to help doctors make better healthcare decisions.
Pfizer and Cipla
With the aim to combat high cancer rates in Africa, Pfizer and Cipla announced that they would cut costs of 16 cancer drugs including chemotherapy starting this year. Hearing the news reminded some of the early-2000s AIDS campaign to identify countries with a high burden of AIDS and lower treatment costs. Pfizer will set prices just above manufacturing costs and Cipla agreed to sell some pills and infusions for as little as 50 cents and $10 respectively. American Cancer Society (ACS) worked with the two pharmaceuticals as well as IBM Health Corps to offer ChemoQuant in sub-Saharan African countries.
Programs like these are paving the way for a focus on NCDs in developing nations.
“I can save a child with leukemia for $300. That’s a disease that has a 90 percent cure rate in America, and a 90 percent death rate in Africa,” Megan O’Brien, director of global cancer treatments at ACS told the New York Times. This massive disparity is not unique to leukemia and is what has many stakeholders asking, “what can we do to bridge this gap?”
World Cancer Day provides a unique opportunity to unite the world on a number of competing cancer priorities, ranging from the need for research funding to bringing cancer information and treatment to the regions that need it the most. The global community must address all aspects in the fight against cancer, complex as they may be.