In 2012, 65% of all cancer deaths globally occurred in low- and middle-income countries (LMICs). This estimate is projected to rise to 75% by 2030.
With 44% of these deaths being attributed to preventable risk factors, we have a duty as a world-leading cancer organisation to utilise our knowledge of developing and supporting life-saving cancer prevention policies in the UK to support global progress on cancer prevention.
That’s especially important because many health systems across the world were already faltering even before they felt the impact of COVID-19. As it stands, a large part of the global population doesn’t have access to effective cancer treatment or care.
Focusing on cancer prevention globally is essential; we cannot say we have beaten cancer until we have beaten it everywhere.
Tackling the biggest issues
That’s why we’ve prioritised supporting prevention polices that focus on tobacco control and human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccine implementation in LMICs, areas where we have achieved real progress in the UK.
Tobacco remains the leading cause of preventable deaths globally.
From laboratory studies in the 1950s that helped unravel how tobacco chemicals damage DNA, we’ve steadily built the case against tobacco, successfully pushing for evidence-based policy change to reduce its impact.
And in 1999, analysis by our researchers revealed the link between HPV and cervical cancer was much stronger than expected. They showed that the virus accounted for almost all cases of the disease, bolstering the case for a vaccination programme.
This is now routine in the UK, and last year, a long-awaited study by our scientists proved that HPV vaccination has reduced predicted cases of cervical cancer in the UK by 90%.
Since then, the World Health Organisation (WHO) has agreed global strategies to tackle tobacco and cervical cancer, demonstrating the impact our work can have.
This will not be enough, however, without the accompanying political will and funding to improve cancer prevention at national and global levels. If things don’t change, it is predicted that by 2030 13 million people around the globe will die from cancer each year.
Building our network
Our International Cancer Prevention Programme was set up in 2015 to focus on tobacco control in LMICs. In 2020, we expanded it to explore how we could tackle cervical cancer in the highest burden countries.
Over the past 8 years we’ve invested in programmes to help create better cancer prevention policies in over 30 countries.
But we know there is more to do, and we know we can’t do it alone.
The scale of the cancer burden in LMICs, and the way it intersects with other global health challenges, means we must collaborate with partners across countries and sectors to have the greatest impact.
The challenges the cancer community faces are also connected to broader global health challenges.
For example, many diseases co-exist. Women living with HIV have a significantly higher risk of HPV infection and are 6 times more at risk of cervical cancer than women living without HIV.
That’s why we need to work together on the policy, financing and health system challenges faced by the entire global health community.
To do that, we’ve focused on building productive relationships with the global Cancer, Non-Communicable Disease (NCD), Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights, and Legal communities – including large networks such as the Union for International Cancer Control (UICC) and the NCD Alliance.
These partnerships will amplify our voice in these global communities and better enable us to support cancer control globally.
This presents more opportunities for us to influence global policy initiatives on cancer at the WHO and United Nations (UN), while also complementing our International Cancer Prevention Programme by forging links with grassroots cancer organisations in LMICs.
A global issue
We understand that some of the key challenges in cancer control – including financing, health workforce capacity and prevention policies – are common across global health.
So, where it’s beneficial, we’ve forged links with organisations and networks beyond cancer that are working towards these common goals.
Establishing and nurturing these partnerships will strengthen our ability to advocate for cancer to receive the attention it deserves, building political will and resources for implementation for both the WHO tobacco control and cervical cancer strategies.
This is going to be particularly important in the run up to global processes like the 2023 UN High Level Meeting on Universal Health Coverage and the 2025 UN High Level Meeting on NCDs, where we intend to be a strong voice for the prioritisation of cancer.
Cancer is a global issue. That’s why we are committed to working to support further investment and implementation of globally-agreed strategies to address tobacco control and cervical cancer elimination in LMIC’s.
We know what needs to be done to stop millions of preventable deaths around the world. Will you support us?
Natalie Varney-Hopkins is Programme Manager for the International Cancer Prevention Programme in our Global Team