In Asia, A Debate Over Making Cancer a Global Health Priority

Not surprisingly, cancer researchers in Asia think their specialty deserves to be a higher global health priority. Today at an Asia Cancer Forum discussion in Tsukuba, Japan, one speaker after another pointed to statistics showing that cancer, though thought of as an advanced country scourge, is rapidly overtaking AIDS, tuberculosis, and malaria as a cause of premature mortality in the developing world. Yet cancer isn’t mentioned as one of the United Nations Millennium Development Goals. Shigeru Omi, former World Health Organization Regional Director for the Western Pacific now at Jichi Medical University in Tochigi Prefecture, drew murmurs of approval from the partisan crowd when he said the global health pendulum had swung too far towards addressing infectious diseases "at the expense of non-communicable diseases." He suggested that Japan use its influence with international organizations to rebalance priorities.

Not so fast, countered Hiroyoshi Endo, an infectious diseases specialist at Tokyo Women's Medical University. Saying he was offering "constructive criticism from someone in a field in competition for resources," he noted that infectious disease scientists not only had very clear goals but proven methodologies and metrics for reducing the infectious disease burden. "For cancer to be included in the Millennium Development Goals, there must be more explicit goals and the means of evaluation must be clarified," Endo said.

Hajime Inoue, a public health adviser to the China Prefectural government, suggested cancer researchers do their homework and have solid proposals ready by 2015, the deadline for the current Millennium Development Goals and a likely starting point for new global health priorities.

The Asia Cancer Forum was held in conjunction with the 20th Asia Pacific Cancer Conference, running from 12 to 14 November.