Chatham House calls on oncology community to join global drive for universal health coverage

Peter McIntyre

Robert Yates from the Chatham House policy institute has called on the oncology community to join the global campaign for universal health coverage as the best way of ensuring that governments allocate sufficient resources to prevention, treatment and care.

Interviewed during the World Oncology Forum, Robert Yates, who is director of the Chatham House Universal Health Coverage Forum, said that the shifting burden of disease made it essential for cancer to be given a place in every country’s support for essential care. “As more and more deaths due to cancer are occurring it really should be the case that universal health coverage must include the full range of cancer services, from promotion and prevention services, curative services, rehabilitative services, and also vitally palliative care as well.”

Yates says this means “quite simply everyone getting the health services they need without suffering financial hardship” and he said that this would mainly depend on higher public financing – particularly in lower-middle income countries currently spending only about 1.2% of their GDP on public health.

“We can see that there are some very, very cost effective cancer prevention measures but also curative services too that really ought to be in a package of services that is available for the entire population. So this notion that cancer services are too expensive and that developing countries can’t afford them is absolute nonsense, and it really should be the case that even low income countries in their package of services that are available for the entire population should include some cancer services too.”

Universal health coverage is a key target in the Sustainable Development Goals for 2030 agreed by governments at the United Nations. Cancer is not mentioned specifically in the SDGs, but Goal 3 on health includes the target to “achieve universal health coverage, including financial risk protection, access to quality essential health-care services and access to safe, effective, quality and affordable essential medicines and vaccines for all.”

Yates welcomed the idea of a Global Cancer Fund if it is targeted on selected areas of need, but pointed out that even a successful fund would not have much impact on the overall global burden of cancer.

“I do think there is a role for using these funds wisely and maybe choosing three or four issues where there is a clear case for investment in global public goods – creating cancer registries, maybe procuring certain commodities that could be distributed to low income countries. It really would be restricted to those kinds of activities plus … supporting civil society organisations in these countries not only to be lobbying for more money to spend on cancer services, but on health services in general.”

See the interview by Anna Wagstaff with Robert Yates.


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