Experts Urge More Efforts to Fight Cancer in Poor Countries

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This is the VOA Special English Health Report.

Health experts are calling for action to expand cancer care and control in the developing world. A paper published by the medical journal Lancet says cancer was once thought of mostly as a problem in the developed world. But it says cancer is now a leading cause of death and disability in poor countries.

Experts from Harvard University and other organizations urge the international community to fight cancer aggressively. They say it should be fought the way HIV/AIDS has been fought in Africa.

Cancer kills more than seven and a half million people a year worldwide. The experts say almost two-thirds are in low-income and middle-income countries.

They say cancer kills more people in developing countries than AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria combined. But they say the world spends only five percent of its cancer resources in those countries.

Felicia Knaul from the Harvard Medical School was one of the authors of the paper. She was in Mexico when she was found to have breast cancer. She received treatment there. She says the experience showed her the sharp divide between the rich and the poor in treating breast cancer.

FELICIA KNAUL: "And we are seeing more and more how this is attacking young women. It's the number two cause of death in Mexico for women thirty to fifty-four. All over the developing world, except the poorest-poorest, it’s the number one cancer-related death among young women. And, I think we have to again say that there is much more we could do about it than we are doing about it."

Professor Knaul met community health workers during her work in developing countries. She says they were an important part of efforts to reduce deaths from cervical cancer. They were able to persuade women to get tested and to get vaccinated against a virus that can cause it.

The experts say cancer care does not have to be costly. For example, patients can be treated with lower-cost drugs that are off-patent. This means the drugs are no longer legally protected against being copied.

In another new report, the American Cancer Society says cancer has the highest economic cost of any cause of death. It caused an estimated nine hundred billion dollars in economic losses worldwide in two thousand eight.

That was one and a half percent of the world economy, and just losses from early death and disability. The study did not estimate direct medical costs. But it says the productivity losses are almost twenty percent higher than for the second leading cause of economic loss, heart disease.

And that's the VOA Special English Health Report, written by Caty Weaver with Vidushi Sinha. I’m Barbara Klein.

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