Health experts say policymakers don’t take pediatric oncology into account when they're setting national health priorities, because of a presumption that cancer care for children is too expensive and too difficult to deliver in areas with limited access to resources, NPR reported.
But emerging research shows that it’s not only possible to provide treatment, but that it can also be done on the cheap.
A report that was published in the Journal of Global Oncology studied the Butaro Cancer Center of Excellence, an advanced medical center delivering comprehensive cancer care to a rural population in Rwanda.
The Butaro Cancer Center of Excellence is run by the Ministry of Health and the American organization Partners in Health. Its patients were cared for and even cured for much less than it would cost in high-income countries.
"There's this myth that treating cancer is expensive," Christian Rusangwa, a Rwandan physician with Partners In Health who worked on the study, told NPR. "And that's because the data is almost all from high-income countries."
The authors of the study found that patients with childhood cancers nephroblastoma and Hodgkin lymphoma could receive full treatment, follow-ups, and social support for as low as $1,490 and $1,140, NPR reported.
And it’s not just the hospital in Rwanda that is working to implement low-cost childhood cancer treatments.
St. Jude Children's Research Hospital in Memphis has a partnership with health facilities in Singapore and China, and another recent study showed that a health center in Uganda was able to treat Burkitt's lymphoma at a low cost, too.
The authors from the study in Rwanda note that the low cost and high success comes from partnerships with Harvard University and the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, but also from the fact that doctors’ labor costs much less.
The United Nations Sustainable Development Goals set out 17 goals to reach in order to eradicate extreme poverty by 2030, and Goal 3 is about ensuring good health and well-being for all. Around the world, access to health services varies greatly — creating a gap between the cancer care received in the US or Canada, and in Rwanda or Uganda, for example.
That is why these studies are so encouraging — not only does it dispel the myth that it’s too expensive to treat childhood cancer in developing countries, but they set a precedence for future commitments to global health.
"The naysayers will say, 'We don't have pediatric oncologists in Africa, how would we possibly address this problem?' " Felicia Knaul, public health professor at the University of Miami, told NPR. "And that's why partnership models, like those supported by Dana Farber and St. Jude, are so important — they've shown that you can bridge that gap and have a tremendous impact."