2022 World Cancer Day : “Closing the Care Gap”

Today is world cancer day. On February 4 every year, the global cancer community commemorates World Cancer Day (WCD) to inspire greater awareness of cancer and action to better prevent, detect and treat the disease.

World Cancer Day 2022 marks the first year of a new three-year campaign centred on the issue of equity with the campaign theme ‘Close the care gap’ which raises awareness about the lack of equity in cancer care.

Cancer is one of the world’s leading causes of death, and its burden is growing. A 2019 study also found cancer to be the first or second leading cause of death before the age of 70 years in 112 of 183 countries. In 2020, there were about 19.3 million new cases and 10 million cancer deaths worldwide. Sadly, 70% of cancer deaths occur in developing nations like Nigeria due to lack of access to optimal care. Nigeria is currentlyestimated to have 233,911 cancer cases, with 124,815 new cases and 78,899 cancer deaths, yearly.

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Care for cancer, however, like so many other diseases, reflects the inequalities and inequities of our world. The clearest distinction is between high- and low-income countries, with comprehensive treatment reportedly available in more than 90% of high-income countries but less than 15% of low-income countries.

Furthermore, a recent WHO survey found that cancer services are covered by a country’s largest, government health financing scheme in an estimated 37% of low- and middle-income countries, compared to at least 78% of high-income countries. This means that a cancer diagnosis has the potential to push families into poverty, particularly in lower-income countries, an effect that has been exacerbated during the COVID-19 pandemic.

WHO’s efforts are focused on breast cancer, now the most common cancer; cervical cancer, that can be eliminated; and childhood cancer. The focus for each of these initiatives is low- and middle-income countries, where the biggest public health gains are to be made.

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These integrated global cancer initiatives are being implemented by more than 200 partners around the world, including many development banks who have significantly increased their investments in cancer research, prevention and care.

Experience has shown the importance of national cancer centres in ensuring a comprehensive approach to cancer treatment. Bringing services for prevention, diagnosis, multidisciplinary treatment and supportive care together in one place makes it easier for patients to navigate services and leads to a greater concentration of expertise, and subsequently better health outcomes. Furthermore, cancer centres serve as training and research hubs, and in this way, help build country capacity and expertise.

Screening is another important element of comprehensive cancer prevention and control but decisions on what to include in a cancer programme require consideration of a number of complex factors. To support decision-making on such issues in countries, WHO has just released A short guide to cancer screening. Increase effectiveness, maximize benefits and minimize harm.

Radiotherapy is among the most cost-effective, efficient and widely-used cancer treatments, and may be considered as a treatment option for an estimated half of cancer patients. Despite being a critical component of cancer care, however, worldwide access to radiotherapy is still inadequate, particularly in lower-income countries.

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To reinvigorate efforts to address this problem, WHO is joining forces with the IAEA, as it launches Rays of Hope. This new project will prioritize a limited number of high-impact, cost-effective and sustainable interventions in line with national needs and commitment, starting in Africa.


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