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Another neglected disease: Cancer in the Developing World

Breast cancer rates worldwide, 1980-2010

Freelance (and former NPR) health journalist Joanne Silberner of Seattle is doing a series of reports on cancer in the developing world for a number of news organizations with funding from the Pulitzer Center for Crisis Reporting.

The gist of it is that cancer in poor countries is often a neglected disease. As Silberner says in announcing her reporting tour starting in Uganda, moving on to India and Haiti:

Worldwide, more people die from cancer than from HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria – combined. Yet until recently, cancer was almost ignored by the global health groups, charitable organizations and governments working to improve conditions in developing countries.

As described to the Common Language Project, one of the collaborators on the project, Silberner first visits Kampala, Uganda, where Seattle’s Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Institute has partnered with locals to launch the Uganda Cancer Institute.

Here’s a blog post for the Pulitzer Center describing a personal dilemma many reporters encounter when covering stories of poverty — should I help?

But what is at stake here is much a bigger dilemma, or apparent dilemma, which Silberner is traveling around the world to address: Given the limited (and lately, shrinking) resources available in global health to address diseases of poverty, is it realistic to try to include treatment for cancer?

Many today think so, Silberner writes:

The thinking was this: People in poor countries weren’t living long enough to get cancer; diagnosis and treatment were too costly and too difficult to deliver in low-income areas; there was no way to maintain sophisticated medical equipment outside of large, modern hospitals.

Global health experts are now coming to see that thinking as all wrong, and they’re now pushing hard to establish research and treatment programs. Their challenges range from finding new, inexpensive and easy-to-do tests and treatments, to overcoming the stigma that keeps people with cancer from seeking help.

Look for her radio reports on KUOW and PRI’s The World, in print at the Common Language Project and the Pulitzer Center. I’ll try to keep up and post on her reporting here as well.


About Author

Tom Paulson

Tom Paulson is founder and lead journalist at Humanosphere. Prior to operating this online news site, he reported on science,  medicine, health policy, aid and development for the Seattle Post-Intelligencer. Contact him at tom[at] or follow him on Twitter @tompaulson.