If you were to ask the general public what they thought to be the most deadly diseases found in the Global South, undoubtedly HIV/AIDS, malaria and tuberculosis (TB), would be amongst the commonest answers. This isn’t wrong. Indeed, around 2.1 million people die from HIV/AIDS, 711 000 from malaria and 1.1 million from TB each year in the developing world. Deaths in the rich Global North from these diseases are scarily different, with only 5% of HIV cases occurring there.

If you were to ask ‘is there cancer in the Global South?’ or ‘what is the current prevalence of cancer in the South?’, I am sure many would be unable to give an accurate answer. Some may even look on astonished and say ‘well…I had never thought about such a disease affecting people in those types of countries’

And this is where (unfortunately or arguably fortunately) they are wrong. This week, The World Health Organisation stated that the world is facing a ‘tidal wave’ of cancer and it will be those in the Global South hit hardest by this storm. They have estimated that by 2025, 19 million will be diagnosed with cancer, increasing to 24 million by 2035.

…’is there cancer in the Global South?’…

Such figures are alarming although have been noted by epidemiologists over the past few years. The Global Burden of Disease report in 2010 claimed that in this year, 8 million died from cancer, a 38% increase since 1980. Non-communicable diseases are on the rise too, accounting for 34.5 million deaths in 2010, 65.5% of the total number of deaths globally, compared with 55% in 1990.

Why is this so? Ironically, it could be said this news of cancer’s growth and spread is positive. The South is ‘catching up’ with the North in (some) development aspects so to speak. As a whole, people are living longer and the total global population is thus increasing. Cancer mostly affects those of older age and so, with an older population, it ‘makes sense’ that cancer is on the rise.

…the South is ‘catching up’ with the North…

However, this rather simplistic look into the reasons why cancer cases are increasing globally is limited. The WHO Cancer Report released this week suggests alcohol, smoking and obesity are amongst the main attributes to blame.

Of course, there is not just one ‘type’ of cancer. It’s variability, both within the body and geographically affect gender, mortality rates and prevention methods. Whilst for women, breast cancer is the most common globally; cervical cancer dominates in parts of Africa and South America. For men, it is prostate cancer leads around the world but lung and liver cancer coming out on top in Asia. Prevention measures have been in place and are continuing to be developed. The good news is that the WHO believes that through such methods, the estimated figure of 24 million cancer cases could be halved. The bad news: without the implementation of preventative measures, the figure of 70% of the world’s cancer deaths being in the Global South will either remain or increase, a rather bleak outlook. To the delight of neo-liberalists, the introduction of sin taxes on tobacco have proved very effective and have been used in South Africa, Mexico, China, Tanzania and Papua New Guinea but more needs to be done. Cancer treatments cost Europe billions of dollars each year. Countries in the South, generally speaking, do not have billions of dollars to put towards chemo or radiotherapy.

…prevention measures have been in place and are continuing to be developed…

You may ask why has this been ignored and pushed to the sidelines? That is a good question. Perhaps it is due to ignorance or peoples inability to think poverty stricken countries could ever overcome their desperately poor health situation. Or maybe other diseases have been and continue to be deemed more important (just looked at the annual funding figures to developing countries. HIV/AIDS received $6.2 billion while cancer received a mere $168 million last year). 

Whatever the reason, the cancer ‘tidal wave’ must be seen and prevented. Cancer is no longer a rich persons disease. It is vital this is finally acknowledged, understood and dealt with for those newly entering and those well within the latter stages of life.

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I'm a 20-something year old Geography (Ba) student from Edinburgh but living and loving life in London.

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