“You have cancer,” are three of the most frightening words anyone can hear. But – your situation is especially perilous if you live in Asia, Africa, Central or South America. According to the World Health Organization, about 60 percent of new cancer cases and 70 percent of cancer deaths occur in those regions.
The statistics hit close to home for Dr. Gilberto de Lima Lopes Jr., an oncologist at Sylvester Comprehensive Cancer Center, part of the University of Miami Health System.
When his great-uncle Fabio Lopes developed leukemia, a treatment was available – except in the Brazilian public health system where Fabio lived. After a short fight with his disease, Fabio died.
With the memory of his great uncle as inspiration, Dr. Lopes not only became a physician, he also serves as Sylvester’s medical director for International Programs and is associate director of Global Oncology.
What is global oncology?
Fueled by the knowledge that 30 to 40 percent of cancers are preventable and a larger percentage are curable, Dr. Lopes and his team work to address inequalities in cancer prevention, care, research, and education in low- and middle-income countries (LMICs).
“Ten years ago we did not even discuss cancer control in these countries because we thought infectious diseases were the most important cause of death. However, because of demographic changes, these regions now have more deaths from heart disease and cancer. In 2011, the United Nations decided that non-communicable diseases like cancer should be foremost on the global health agenda,” Dr. Lopes explains.
At Sylvester, global oncology takes many forms, including overseas lectures and conferences, training medical professionals from LMICs here and abroad, and partnering with public health and government officials. The team improves patient care by providing telemedicine options to patients in their home countries, holding same-day clinics, and other outreach initiatives.
The team is working to develop cost-effective ways to control and treat cancer in low-income nations, as well as funding cervical cancer screening initiatives for women in Jamaica, Haiti, and Haitian women living in Miami. Many initiatives are supported through grants, such as the one that will support a website to help researchers and public health officials create cancer prevention and control policies in Costa Rica.
A discussion heard ‘round the world
Sylvester’s global oncology mission echoes that of World Cancer Day, which is on February 4. “This event promotes better prevention, control, and treatment of cancer in the U.S. and around the world. It also encourages people to be proactive about prevention and early detection,” says Dr. Lopes.
Some advancements prompted by global oncology include:
- The Brazilian government required insurance companies to cover oral chemotherapy.
- Latin America and the Caribbean improved education for cancer health professionals, created programs targeting high-risk populations, expanded cancer registries and developed policies to enhance prevention, early diagnosis, and treatment.
- The percentage of people with basic health insurance coverage increased from 46 percent to 60 percent between 2008 and 2013.*
Despite this progress, there is much work to be done. For example, people in low- and middle-income countries must often take the government to court to get newer, life-saving medications. According to Dr. Lopes, as of 2016, there were approximately 240,000 health-related lawsuits in Brazil.
The issues and cultural barriers are complicated, but the underlying solutions are simple, says Dr. Lopes. “Healthy behavior is the best defense against cancer. Simple steps like exercise, eating more fruits and vegetables and less fatty foods make a big difference. Don’t smoke, but if you do, get the support you need to quit. Get screened, so if you do get cancer, it is detected early when it’s easier to treat.”
You can help
To support the worldwide fight against cancer, you can:
- Call your state and federal representatives to request that they add cancer prevention and awareness to their development goals.
- Donate to worthy cancer charities and research facilities.
- Support the work of the Global Oncology program. Click here to learn more or call 305-243-4510.
- Explore more ideas at worldcancerday.org
*The Lancet, 2013.