Research involving professionals from all over the world shows that investing in treatments and medical assistance is effective in reducing the number of cases and improving the economy.
A new study shows that, due to the lack of investments in health care, 11 million children will die of cancer by 2050. The report, published this Monday (30) on The Lancet Oncology, was carried out by a commission formed by experts from all around the world.
According to the document, of these 11 million deaths, more than 9 million (84%) must occur in low-income and lower-middle-income countries, where investments in treatment and diagnosis are even lower. “For a long time, there has been a widespread misconception that caring for children with cancer in low- and middle-income countries is expensive, unattainable and inadequate because of competing health priorities. Nothing could be further from the truth,” says Professor Rifat Atun, from Harvard University, USA, and co-chair of the commission.
Even though cancer treatment and diagnosis have improved in recent decades, inequalities in investment and access to health care have resulted in global disparities in child survival. The study estimates that 80% of small children diagnosed with cancer in high-income countries will live for more than five years; in poorer nations, this rate drops to less than 30%. In East Africa, the rate is only 8%.
To make the estimates, the authors used a new model that, for the first time, takes into account the weaknesses of health systems, forecasting national and global estimates of cancer incidence, survival and mortality of children up to 14 years in 200 countries.
About 13.7 million children are expected to develop cancer worldwide between 2020 and 2050 – more than 10 million of these cases will occur in low-income countries and about 939,000 in rich countries. Of these, 6.1 million cases (45%) will be left without diagnosis and treatment. In South Asia and sub-Saharan Africa, the forecast is that one in two new cases of cancer will not be detected.
Impact on the economy
The commission also looked at the return on money invested in social and health interventions – such as access to patient care and referrals for treatment (for example, chemotherapy, radiation therapy, surgery), as well as services to reduce treatment dropout.
They found that more than 6 million child deaths from cancer could be prevented worldwide in the next 30 years – more than half (56%) of the total 11 million projected deaths.
The report also makes a strong economic case for investing in expanding coverage of the interventions globally. The cumulative treatment costs of $594 billion will be offset, according to the report, by global productivity gains of $2,580 billion between 2020 and 2050 – producing a net benefit of almost $2 trillion, which includes countries of all income levels.
“Our findings indicate that $20 billion in investments per year for 30 years can bring a return of $3 for every dollar spent. This should reassure politicians that a considerable return on investment is feasible,” says Carlos Rodriguez-Galindo, from St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital, USA, and co-chair of the commission. “Without this investment to stop millions of unnecessary childhood cancer deaths, we are unlikely to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals.”
“Improving child cancer outcomes will save millions of lives and generate $2 trillion in economic benefits. But this will require strong political leadership, global solidarity, collective action, inclusive participation from all major stakeholders and alignment of national and global efforts to expand access to effective and sustainable care for children with cancer,” says Rifat Atun. “Only then will all children diagnosed with cancer be able to enjoy equitable access to great care, better health, a chance to reach a fulfilling and productive adulthood and the dignity they deserve.”