01 JUNE 2016

Asia’s war on cancer

A recent forum took a closer look at what’s needed to manage cancer across Asia.

In its 2014 World Cancer Report, the World Health Organization (WHO) predicted that the number of cancer cases in Asia would increase by 75 per cent over the next two decades.

Today, healthcare systems around the world are already struggling to cope with cancer patients. The rise in the number of cases will worsen the financial strain on low- to middle-income countries across Asia as they manage the economic and social costs of this disease.

The Economist’s Health Care Forum, War on Cancer, took a closer look at financing cancer control and examined strategies to manage the disease. A particular topic of interest was how there was a lack of funding for infrastructure projects that help build robust cancer-control systems in Asia.

What is holistic cancer infrastructure?

In the context of a developing country, a holistic infrastructure should focus on a cancer centre with an emphasis on the training of healthcare workers. Ideally, the centre should be built in a busy district, in partnership with medical schools and other hospitals. This will avoid costly duplication of equipment required to treat cancer patients.

These countries have a phased approach when developing cancer programmes, prioritising cancer with high burdens, prevention and early detection. Within the infrastructure, there is a strong need for a hub on cancer prevention and palliative care. It is also important to have strong surgical and radiation oncology services and facilities.

Holistic regional cancer infrastructure will require several cancer centres to be established in smaller countries and developing countries. These cancer centres should then work together to ensure that they are able to offer healthcare services to remote areas, as efficiently as possible.

Investing in cancer infrastructure

Public-private sector collaboration

Both the private and public sectors need to work together to increase accessibility and affordability of cancer care.

Having accessible treatment comes down to two things: pricing and portfolio. Affordable pricing ensures that everyone has access to treatment. Having a good portfolio means being able to treat the range of cancers in a particular area. This will reduce incidences of the disease.

There are many opportunities for private entities and banks such as the Asian Development Bank, to support developing countries for cancer care.

Invest in education

Patient autonomy is essential. People living in remote areas may not realise that they are suffering from cancer if they are not taught its signs and symptoms.

Providing education increases cancer awareness so that patients can seek treatment on their own. Education will also encourage communities to participate fully in cancer control policy, enhancing efficiency in cancer infrastructure.

Better data collection

Healthcare workers in developing countries need to be trained so that they will not only be able to provide accessible healthcare, but also run clinical trials for niche types of cancer (that could be specific to the particular region).

Prevention is the best investment

Health organisations around the world should invest in the prevention of infections that can lead to cancer. Advocating lifestyle changes will go a long way in enhancing public health.

The world, and not just Asia, needs to find a way to provide value-for-money cancer care.

Written by Charmaine Ng

TAGS disease management