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WHO Asks Countries to Implement Policies That Prioritize Cancer Prevention

Health systems must provide cancer screening, detection and diagnosis at all levels of care, the World Health Organization (WHO) said Monday, while urging the Member States to implement policies that prioritize cancer prevention across sectors. In 2018, 18.1 million new cases of cancer developed worldwide, while around 9.6 million people died from the disease. Seventy percent of those deaths occurred in low- and middle-income countries, including those of the WHO South-East Asia Region, WHO Regional Director for South-East Asia Poonam Khetrapal Singh said. “Inadequate access to cancer screening, diagnosis and treatment is the primary cause. In 2017, just 30 percent of low-income countries reported having appropriate cancer treatment services available. “That compares to more than 90 percent of high-income countries. Just 26 percent of low-income countries meanwhile reported having pathology services generally available in the public sector, leading to late diagnosis and a lower chance of successful treatment,” Singh said on World Cancer Day.

To accelerate region-wide progress and counter the fact that more than 67 percent of the region’s cancer patients die before the age of 70, Singh stressed on the need for integrating national cancer control programs into health systems at every level. “While tertiary services are important, they are expensive and generally most effective when a cancer is detected early. “To make that happen, effective cancer screening services must be available at both secondary and primary facilities, while health workers must be trained to identify the signs and symptoms that could lead to a positive diagnosis,” she said. She asked member states to also continue to implement policies that prioritize cancer prevention across sectors, including pursuing the plain-packaging of tobacco products (tobacco is the single largest cause of cancer, making up around 22 pc of cancer deaths), better regulating alcohol consumption or promoting the virtues of a healthy diet and active lifestyle.

The immunization programs should also be strengthened to ensure everyone receives the hepatitis B vaccine and all women receive the human papilloma virus vaccine, Singh said. “Importantly, and as the theme of this year’s World Cancer Day I am and I will’ emphasizes, each of us can be a changemaker. By avoiding behaviors that are linked to cancer we can reduce our own risk while encouraging our peers to do the same. Notably, we can also promote high-level engagement and funding of national programs. “As a 2014 World Health Assembly resolution urges, beyond prevention and control, this should include promoting quality palliative services able to give terminal patients the care and dignity they deserve,” Singh said. As early as 2015 the Regional Committee adopted a resolution on the way forward for cancer prevention and control, emphasizing the need to strengthen national programs. That commitment was fortified in 2017, when the World Health Assembly adopted a resolution that promoted an integrated approach to providing cancer services, and when in 2018 the WHO Global Initiative for Childhood Cancer was launched. – Business Standard