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WHO Developing Global Cancer Control Strategy

The World Health Organization says it has taken a first step toward responding to what it calls "the global epidemic of cancer." The action was taken at a two-day meeting of international Cancer Experts aimed at developing a global cancer control strategy, which is expected to be completed within a year.

The World Health Organization says 58 million people will die from infectious and chronic non-communicable diseases this year. Nearly seven million of these deaths will be from cancer. WHO predicts a 50 percent increase in cancer deaths in the next 15 years. It says 75-percent of these deaths will be in developing countries.

Yasmi Bhurgri is Director of the Karachi Cancer Registry at the Aga Khan University in Pakistan. She says the cancer burden in her country is immense and rising rapidly. She says Pakistan has some of the highest rates of preventable tobacco-related lung cancer among men, of breast cancer in women and of oral cancer in the general population.

Dr. Bhurgri says it is crucial that the World Health Organization play a dynamic role in curtailing the cancer epidemic in Pakistan and other countries. She says a key aspect of the WHO plan will include steps to prevent people from getting cancer. "That is, trying to decrease the risk factors which are already prevalent and proven. To try to decrease the incidence of those cancers which are avoidable or due to avoidable risk factors and then there would be a second phenomenon which would have to be addressed which would require a lot of resources, and that would be screening and monitoring," she said.

Another participant at the conference, Dr. Twalib Ngoma, is Executive Director of the Ocean Road Cancer Institute, the only facility of its kind in Tanzania. He says most health budgets in Africa go toward treating HIV/AIDS and infectious diseases. But, he notes cancer is on the increase and can no longer be pushed aside.

This will be difficult, he says, because it is expensive to develop national cancer control programs. He says in Africa today, most patients seeking cancer treatment are in the advanced stages of the disease when chemotherapy will do no good. "So, investing our resources in curative treatment is not going to be cost-effective," she said. "Our approach would be to invest in palliative care to reduce the suffering of people who already have cancer. The next thing is we know that one set of cancers is preventable. We need to increase cancer awareness. We need to have programs to prevent cancer."

Dr. Ngoma says all this will become possible with the assistance of the World Health Organization when its Global Cancer Control strategy is out. He says WHO will issue guidelines on how African countries can develop cancer prevention and treatment programs. He says he hopes money to help run these programs also will be available.