The White House has issued an immediate focus on infectious disease as a serious global health concern. Epidemics, such as Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) in 2003, took hundreds of lives and caused economic damage in the range of tens of billions of dollars. With the SARS outbreak, the World Health Organization (WHO) and other international health bodies as part of the Global Health Security Agenda, recognized the need to forestall, identify, and react to biological threats. They identified health as a security risk, as well. Infectious disease causes damage through loss of lives, economy, and the ability to recover. And, 80 percent of nations are unprepared to manage pandemic infections and the international response is to amass resources to prevent and handle them.
However, there is another epidemic that is equally harmful, that strikes 14 million men, women and children and claims the lives of eight million worldwide annually: cancer and other non-communicable diseases. One-third of these deaths are preventable. In fact, double the number of people who die from AIDS, malaria and tuberculosis combined, lose their lives to cancer. The WHO has been pushing for immediate action on this issue. They project that the number of deaths will increase by 80 percent in the next 15 years and most of these will hit the populations in low-and middle-income countries (LMICs). The reason is that services and technologies are often not accessible in these nations.
The WHO has developed a Global Monitoring Framework, which examines new cancer cases, deaths, screenings and vaccinations to prevent cervical cancer. The most common cancers and causes of death include lung, breast, colorectal, liver and stomach, most notably in developing countries. Cervical cancer – which is preventable with human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccination – ranks number four among causes of cancer death in women worldwide. Lack of available screening and treatment in lesser developed countries is a chief reason for the continued high rate of incidence and death.
An example of the disparity in how the disease touches women worldwide is comparing cancer in Sub-Saharan Africa with that in North America. In the former, there are 35 cervical cancer diagnoses for every 100,000 women. In the latter, there are just seven. In Sub-Saharan Africa, 23 women out of 100,000 die from the disease. In North America, that number is reduced to three.
World Cancer Day, led by the Union for International Cancer Control (UICC), takes place every year on February fourth. The event focuses on breaking myths that surround cancer, and brings increased awareness of the escalating incidence of the disease in LMICs. One of the missions of the Day is to get cancer added to the global health agenda.
The UICC calls World Cancer Day an initiative by which the world can unite in combatting the global cancer epidemic and acknowledging the public health problem. It builds upon the World Cancer Declaration, urging world leaders to recognize the impact of the non-communicable disease – as well as infectious disease – on social, economic, development and human rights. It entreats governments to acknowledge the inequity in diagnosis and treatment, and the disproportionate burden on LMICs. The goal of the day is to raise awareness, to educate the public and to work to eliminate the millions of preventable deaths, as well as to develop policy change that will lead to government action. It seeks to gain acknowledgement that cancer negatively impacts not just global health, but also development – particularly social and economic advances around the world. If sufficient tools are in place, more than one-third of all cancers can be prevented.
By Fern Remedi-Brown