A Push to Fight Cancer in the Developing World

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Science  25 Mar 2011:
Vol. 331, Issue 6024, pp. 1548-1550
DOI: 10.1126/science.331.6024.1548

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Global health has gained in prominence on political agendas in recent years, but attention has been overwhelmingly focused on infectious diseases. Now, some argue, it's time to start closing an equally unconscionable gap between rich and poor nations in cancer prevention, diagnosis, and treatment. The numbers speak volumes. A child suffering from leukemia in Western Europe has an 85% chance of survival; in the 25 poorest countries in the world, it's just over 10%. Estimates suggest that less than 5% of the world's cancer resources are spent in the developing world. Oncologists at topflight centers in the United States and Europe are now taking time out to help improve cancer care in low- and middle-income countries. The obstacles are major, and some people question whether battling cancer is the wisest use of scarce global-health money. Similar doubts were once raised about infectious diseases: 15 years ago people questioned the logistical and financial feasibility of treating HIV and multidrug-resistant tuberculosis in poor countries. Yet both are now being addressed on a large scale. Great strides have been made recently in a range of other tropical diseases, too. So why can't it be done for cancer?