WHO Reports “Catastrophic Impact” Of Pandemic On Cancer Care

In a statement, Dr Hans Henri P. Kluge, WHO Europe Regional Director, said that European health systems, strained by COVID-19, are significantly delaying cancer’s diagnosis and treatments

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Teresa Marvulli
Teresa Marvulli
I am an Italian journalist based in the UK. I trained at City, University of London and I write about the environment, Italian politics and current affairs with a focus on the EU.

United Kingdom. London: The COVID-19 pandemic is having a “catastrophic impact” on cancer care in Europe, according to the WHO.

In a statement, Dr Hans Henri P. Kluge, WHO Europe Region Director, highlighted how Europe health systems, strained by the pandemic and the travel restrictions, are delaying cancer’s diagnosis and treatments, with this having a direct impact on “the chances of a cure or survival for hundreds of thousands of cancer patients.”

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Dr Kluge wrote on Twitter earlier today: “A crisis of noncommunicable diseases, including cancer, is brewing, brought on by the #COVID19 pandemic. But we are fighting back. Today, we have an opportunity to map a new path.”

According to WHO’s data, in the first few months of the pandemic “in 122 out of 163 countries, noncommunicable disease services had been disrupted, and that 1 in 3 countries in the European Region had partially or completely disrupted cancer services”.

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For instance, at Kyrgyzstan’s National Center of Oncology, in April last year, the number of diagnoses dropped by 90%.

In the Netherlands and Belgium, in the first lockdown of 2020, the diagnosis dropped by 30-40%.

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While, in the UK, the delayed treatments and diagnosis are expected to result in “an increase in the number of deaths from colorectal cancer by 15%, and 9% for breast cancer over the next 5 years.”

Furthermore, some countries have experienced a shortage of essential cancer’s drugs.

As stressed in the statement, some cancer treatments and medications are really expensive, even for high-income countries; so, the current economic crisis is negatively affecting the pre-existing inequalities in accessing cancer treatments.  

Cancer numbers before the pandemic

“Even in a normal year, noncommunicable diseases such as cancer, chronic respiratory diseases and diabetes are the leading cause of death and disability in the WHO European Region, accounting for more than 80% of deaths.” says the WHO.

In 2020, 4.8 million people in Europe were diagnosed with cancer: more than 13.000 every day.

The WHO data also shows that 1 in 3 people in western European countries will develop cancer at some point in their life, compared to the 1 in 4 in eastern European countries.

What now?

Today in honour of World Cancer Day, WHO is launching Pan-European Cancer Initiative “to unite all towards better cancer control and prevention and to enable policy-makers to make the right decisions to address cancer effectively.”

The initiative will focus on 5 elements: prevention, early detection, access for all to diagnosis and treatment, palliative care, and a focus on data.

The WHO/Europe has earlier said on Twitter: “Today we announce Aron Anderson as a WHO/Europe’s #cancer ambassador.

Aron is an inspirational individual who recovered from #cancer at an early age. His support will prove vital as part of United Action Against Cancer.”

Mr Anderson is a Swedish adventurer with the first-hand experience of cancer.

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