This past February 4, the world united for World Cancer Day 2023. The goal: to shine a spotlight on the profound disparities in access to life-saving cancer care experienced by people around the world and to look ahead to a better future.
Globally, cancer claims more lives than any other disease. From aging populations, growing urbanization, and climate change, to poor diets, sedentary lifestyles, and tobacco and alcohol consumption, there are many complex factors contributing to rising cancer incidence and mortality around the world.
The global disease burden continues to soar, with close to 10 million deaths and 20 million cancer cases estimated in 2020. Adding to this, a recent study published in 2022 by the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health found a startling rise in cancer in those under 50. It is evident that cancer is not only a major health threat but a significant barrier to economic growth and prosperity. A society can only truly flourish if its population is healthy.
Advancements in cancer have not benefited populations equally
Fortunately, recent progress can serve as a beacon of hope: greater levels of awareness and national screening programs around the world have led to earlier cancer detection and enabled more effective treatment, better health outcomes and higher survival rates.
Yet these positive steps forward are not available to everyone. In fact, the data reveal stark inequities in cancer screening, diagnosis and care. Roughly 65% of cancer deaths occur in low- and middle-income countries (LMICs) and this is projected to increase to 70% within less than a decade. Where a person lives in the world, their gender and their levels of education and income often present major barriers to accessing and affording care. As a result, people living in LMICs—where there are limited resources, lower awareness and insufficient or inaccessible care—are bearing the brunt of the global cancer crisis.
Everyone deserves access to quality cancer care
Supporting LMICs in their efforts to tackle the cancer challenge has been a key focus of Access Accelerated, including early collaboration with the Union for International Cancer Control to successfully launch the ground-breaking initiative, City Cancer Challenge (C/Can). Today, in partnership with the World Bank Group and in close coordination with local stakeholders, Access Accelerated continues to support governments in the development of whole-of-society solutions designed to strengthen health systems, improve access to care and begin to close the equity gap.
This work can be seen in action in Kenya, for example, where cancer is the second leading cause of NCD mortality. The government of Kenya, the World Bank and Access Accelerated have been working together to address many of the access barriers to cancer care, including the pilot project supporting the AMPATH Primary Integrated Care For 4 Chronic Diseases (PIC4C) initiative, aimed at strengthening primary care services in the western counties of Busia and Trans-Nzoia and improving screening and management for many of the country’s leading NCDs, including breast and cervical cancer. The project involved nurses and Reproductive Health Coordinators who can interact with mothers more effectively to share cancer care messages, which helped to achieve the highest level of breast and cervical cancer screenings.
Likewise, the World Bank and Access Accelerated supported the piloting of an integrated health care service delivery model in El Salvador focused on improving the prevention, early detection and treatment of cervical cancer, with particular strides made in cervical cancer prevention with the publication and distribution of educational and outreach materials to raise awareness of HPV, as well as the purchase of nearly 30,000 HPV vaccines and over 80,000 HPV screening tests.
Those initiatives are just two examples of the many ways Access Accelerated has confronted these challenges, but our work is far from done. As we look back on an inspiring and educational World Cancer Day 2023, it’s clear that we must continue to work together to close the care gap and take meaningful steps toward a fairer and healthier future for all.