PhotoMedical professionals everywhere could tell you that treating a disease or medical condition costs money. That big medical bill that you might have had the misfortune to see comes from a variety of different sources, including the cost of the hospital space, how intensive your treatment was, the cost of the actual medicine or services, and many others.

For countries like the United States, who have the medical infrastructure and economy to support it, this system works just fine (though “fine” is up to your interpretation.) Low and middle income countries (LMICs), however, are finding it increasingly more difficult to provide care for their citizens. A new commentary explains that the rising cost of treating and caring for cancer patients in these countries is putting their economic development in jeopardy.

Economic burden

The commentary was written by a number of different authors from the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), the American Cancer Society, and the Imperial College of London. They state that unless adequate prevention strategies for cancer are formulated, then these countries will not have the proper resources to care for their citizens who suffer from it.

“Only rapid acceleration in the implementation of cancer control programs at the national and/or regional levels … is likely to have a major impact in reducing the projected burden,” said the authors.

The economic burden that they talk about is certainly tangible. Currently, low and middle income countries are estimated to carry 59% of the 14 million cases of cancer that affect people around the world. That number is expected to jump to 22 million cases by the year 2030, and low and middle income countries are expected to have 65% of those cases within their borders.

The problem is that these low and middle income countries do not have the money or resources to care for their overwhelming number of cancer patients. Cancer is a costly disease to have, requiring expensive treatments and many different diagnostic and therapeutic work-ups. The authors urge that implementing prevention strategies is the most practical way of avoiding these costs.

Prevention is the key to lower costs

They point out that many countries have been able to curb devastating diseases and conditions due to effective prevention strategies in the past. In Taiwan, hepatitis B vaccinations that started in 1984 cut liver cancer in children in young adults by nearly 80%. Rwanda implemented free school-based vaccinations, amongst other preventions, for HPV and was able to reach 93% coverage for its target population. Smoking prevalence declined in Brazil by 46% between 1989 and 2008 by raising taxes on the products and banning advertisements. These three successes were possible despite each country having limited resources and relatively weaker economies.

“The costs of cancer diagnosis and therapy are extremely high, while prevention leads to net savings,” conclude the authors. Their full commentary has been published in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute

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