On February 4’s World Cancer Day, the Union for International Cancer Control (UICC) is kicking off a three-year campaign to unite organizations, government, and individuals around the globe. The aim of the collaborative effort is to create awareness about cancer and to address existing gaps in cancer care.
According to organizers, the campaign will shine a light on barriers connected to socioeconomic factors, stigma, discrimination, and other factors that prevent patients from receiving timely, accurate diagnoses, prevent services, treatment, and care. Such barriers contribute to broad discrepancies in the risks of developing and surviving cancer.
Anil d’Cruz, UICC president and director of oncology at Apollo Hospitals in India, pointed out statistics that show by the year 2030, an estimated 75% of all premature deaths connected to cancer will take place in low- and middle-income nations.
“Importantly, this care gap is not only between high- and low-resource settings; disparities exist within most countries among different populations due to discrimination or assumptions that encompass age, cultural contexts, gender norms, sexual orientation, ethnicity, income, education levels, and lifestyle issues,” d’Cruz pointed out. “These factors potentially reduce a person’s chance of surviving cancer – and they can and must be addressed.”
Miriam Mutebi, UICC board member and consultant breast surgical oncologist with Aga Khan University Hospital in Kenya, said, “The COVID-19 pandemic has deepened health inequities and created an even greater need for action to mitigate the adverse impact on cancer incidence and survival. Understanding and addressing the social determinants of health and their impact on cancer can considerably improve outcomes for at-risk populations, particularly for cancers that can be more easily detected and treated such as cervical, breast, colorectal and childhood cancers.”
The 2022-2024 World Cancer Day campaign is intended to raise awareness about inequities in cancer care and ask for improvements. It will call on the cancer community, governments, and health care providers to take actions on a number of levels:
- Acknowledging and addressing social determinants of health that constitute many of the barriers to equitable care within countries.
- Developing patient-centered, inclusive public health policies that take into account the specificities and needs of different populations based on ethnicity, gender, age, sexual orientation, disability, geographical location, education, and income.
- Putting in place comprehensive, resource-efficient national cancer control plans integrated into universal health coverage schemes that take a community-based, participatory approach.
- Establishing robust data registries that provide public health authorities with a clear picture of a country’s cancer burden and needs.
- Engaging in community outreach and providing transportation, accommodation, and childcare support to facilitate effective access to health services for rural populations.
- Expanding the use of technological innovations (digital health, mobile screening units, self-sampling test kits) and providing the necessary resources (staff, training, and support) so that they can be more widely used.
The campaign holds that efficient and widely accessible cancer services will save countless individuals from premature and often painful death. Also, according to UICC representatives, greater equity in health care will also strengthen families and communities, benefit the economy with greater workforce participation and offer net savings to health budgets.
“As individuals, as communities, we can and must come together and break down barriers,” said Cary Adams, UICC CEO. “We have achieved a lot in the last decade in cancer care and control around the world but not addressing inequities in society is slowing our progress. Closing the care gap is about fairness, dignity, and fundamental rights to allow everyone to lead longer lives in better health.”