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Project February 26, 2012

Cancer in the Developing World: The Economics of a Disease

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Dr. Charles Ssendikandiwa does rounds on a Saturday morning at the Uganda Cancer Institute. Image by Jacqueline Koch, Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research. Uganda, 2011.

Worldwide, more people die from cancer than from HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria – combined.

Yet until recently, cancer was almost ignored by the global health groups, charitable organizations and governments working to improve conditions in developing countries.

The thinking was this: People in poor countries weren't living long enough to get cancer; diagnosis and treatment were too costly and too difficult to deliver in low-income areas; there was no way to maintain sophisticated medical equipment outside of large, modern hospitals.

Global health experts are now coming to see that thinking as all wrong, and they're now pushing hard to establish research and treatment programs. Their challenges range from finding new, inexpensive and easy-to-do tests and treatments, to overcoming the stigma that keeps people with cancer from seeking help.

In Uganda, for example, women with breast cancer often don't come to the hospital until they're in Stage IV – that's where the cancer has spread throughout the body, sometimes even extruding through the skin. Their reason for waiting? The women say that if they come in for help early on, someone will chop off their breast. Then their husbands will leave them. And they'll die anyway.

Joanne Silberner looks at cancer issues in Uganda, India and Haiti. How do people experience cancer when they have no money for care, or when no care is available? What are the causes of cancer in the developing world? Are there inexpensive ways of detecting and treating cancer, and are these ways acceptable to the populations they're aimed at?

Image by Jacqueline Koch/Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center in Seattle. Uganda, 2011.

Explore this interactive map to learn about cancers that disproportionately affect poorer countries.


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