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Low‑Income Countries Don’t Have Enough Doctors to Address Rising Demand for Cancer Surgeries: Study

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Jan 25, 2021

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A new study published in Lancet Oncology predicts that global demand for cancer-related surgery will go up by 52% in 2040.

Researchers also warn that low and middle-income countries will see the steepest rise in cancer surgery demand, which is alarming as researchers write, “Low-income countries currently have the lowest ratios for the actual number of surgeons and anesthetists per 100 cancer procedures compared with countries at other income levels. The rising demand for cancer surgery could strain the already jeopardized service delivery.”

The estimates are a result of a modelling study, which uses existing data to help understand, visualize and quantify future health and policy problems with the help of existing data. In this case, researchers estimated the proportion of cancer surgery cases across 183 countries, classified by income. These proportions were multiplied with age-adjusted estimates of new cancer cases from the International Agency for Research on Cancer’s Global Cancer Observatory database.

To tackle a rise in cancer surgery demand in low-income countries, a sharp rise in practicing healthcare workers is necessary. According to the study’s estimates, the number of practicing surgeons and anesthetists in low-income countries would have to increase by almost 4 and 6 times respectively to meet the median benchmarks of high-income countries equipped to deal with the rise in demand. This would mean a 107 percent increase in practicing surgeons in low-income countries. For middle-income countries, this number stands at 67 percent.


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Developing countries have long faced a shortage of well-trained physicians, surgeons, and healthcare workers, and the Covid19 pandemic only further highlighted the urgent need for them. Causes for the acute shortage of physicians in low and middle-income countries include lack of proper training, poor curricula, the nations’ inability to recruit and retain workers, and physician recruitment and migration to high-income countries. The latter practice still remains prevalent, even though the World Health Organization adopted a Global Code of Practice on the International Recruitment of Health Personnel in order to preserve the number of doctors in low-income countries with shortages.

Sathira Perera, study co-author from the University of New South Wales, Australia, said, “These findings highlight a need to act quickly to ensure that increasing workforce requirements in low-income countries are adequately planned for. There needs to be an increased focus on the application of cost-effective models of care, along with government endorsement of scientific evidence to mobilize resources for expanding services.”

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Written By Aditi Murti

Aditi Murti is a culture writer at The Swaddle. Previously, she worked as a freelance journalist focused on gender and cities. Find her on social media @aditimurti.

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