Featured ArticleFeb 22Issue

Making a Difference in Cancer Care

Closing the gap in cancer care one step at a time

Cancer is a well-known term in India. Understandably as nearly 7-8 million people lose their battle with the disease in India every year. Today we all know at least one person who is suffering from cancer or who is lost to
cancer.

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The cancer care landscape in India has been very promising. A number of public sector institutions like the Tata Memorial Hospital, Mumbai and Adyar Cancer Institute, Chennai have been the leaders in not only providing latest cancer therapies but also trained the best of doctors and nurses who went on to start premier institutes in different parts of the country. The Indian government has focussed on cancer prevention and control through
various programs, and instituted centres of excellence along with regional cancer centers. However, a number of socioeconomic factors along with stigma and discrimination prevent many people from accessing these services and thus adding to the growing mortality due to cancer.

The 2022-2024 World Cancer Day campaign is designed to raise awareness about this ‘cancer care gap’ and ask for greater equity. This year the Union for International Cancer Control (UICC) launched a new three-year campaign for World Cancer Day (Feb-4) to bring together individuals, organisations and governments around the world in an effort to create awareness and help close the gap in cancer care. “By 2030, it is estimated that 75% of
all premature deaths due to cancer will occur in low- and middle-income countries. 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. These factors potentially reduce a person’s chance of surviving cancer – and they can and must be addressed,” said Prof Anil d’Cruz, President of the Union for International Cancer Control, Director of Oncology at Apollo Hospitals, India.

According to UICC, the first year of the campaign will focus on acknowledging and addressing the social determinants of health that constitute barriers to equitable care.

The COVID-19 pandemic has caused significant disruptions to cancer services and exacerbated existing health inequities, with a high risk of seeing an increase in cancers diagnosed at a later stage and therefore cancer-related deaths. “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,” says Dr Miriam Mutebi, Member of the Board, Union for International Cancer Control and Consultant Breast Surgical Oncologist, Clinical epidemiologist and health systems researcher, Aga Khan University Hospital, Kenya.

The aim of the campaign is to help build efficient and widely accessible cancer services that will save countless individuals from a premature and often painful death. “As individuals, as communities, we can
and must come together and break down barriers. 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,” Dr Cary Adams, CEO of the Union for International Cancer Control added.

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.

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