A Global Approach to Cancer Treatment and Healthcare Equality

Cancer affects individuals around the world, but only the wealthy countries offer real treatment options for the disease. In low-income countries, 90 percent of children with leukemia will die due to the disease. In the industrialized world, 90 percent will live. Paul Farmer, the co-founder of Partners In Health, addressed this issue at a recent symposium held at the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute in Boston. While the symposium dealt specifically with global oncology, Farmer situated the cancer issue within a larger struggle for healthcare equality in his closing talk. Farmer looked at the dropping costs of treatment modalities and vaccines due to government investments and called for societal intervention.

At the symposium, Rifat Atun, a Harvard professor, echoed Farmer’s call to action by demonstrating the efficacy of worldwide healthcare initiatives in the case of HIV. Formerly a deadly disease, HIV has become a manageable condition for individuals around the world due to a concerted effort that has caused significant drops in infection rates. A similar push for cancer could see similar results.

Other professionals have raised concerns about a global oncology initiative because cancer simply looks different in other countries. Due to the prevalence of HIV in parts of Africa, doctors have encountered alarming rates of non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, Kaposi’s sarcoma, and other cancers that are relatively rare in richer nations. While no one knows why HIV contributed to a rise in these types of cancers, a clear link exists. This link makes treating cancer in Africa much different than treating it in other locations.

The deputy director of the National Cancer Institute Center for Global Health calls for a different strategy to deal with cancer. Rather than importing newest technologies and medications, he asks for richer countries to fund partnerships with poorer countries to target efforts towards the exact needs of a specific region.

Tim Broas


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