Making cancer a critical health concern in the developing world
By Mia James
According to Axios International, a consultancy and nonprofit foundation dedicated to improving cancer care and other health services in developing countries, cancer in poorer countries is a significant and growing health concern. Axios CEO Joseph Saba, MD, explains that although infectious diseases like HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis, and malaria tend to be more strongly associated with developing countries, cancer is also a considerable cause of mortality. The World Health Organization has estimated that between 2004 and 2030, global cancer deaths will increase from 7.4 million to 11.8 million—numbers that make cancer, Dr. Saba says, “a major issue that needs to be addressed.”
Axios works on two levels: as a foundation focused on modernizing healthcare infrastructure and as a consulting company that works with governments and pharmaceutical companies to create drug access programs. Dr. Saba explains that the foundation component, a 501(c)(3) public charity, works on “improving the healthcare system [in low-income countries] so that more women and men have access to healthcare.” These interventions may include education and awareness campaigns, improved screening, and better patient care. The function of the organization’s consultancy arm, Dr. Saba explains, “is to work with the pharmaceutical companies to find ways to have access programs” for medicines, as drug shortages, particularly for more recently available therapies, tend to be common in lower-income countries.
Axios’s drug access efforts (lists and descriptions of which can be viewed atwww.accesstotreatment.org) are cooperative ventures between Axios and pharmaceutical companies (including Boehringer Ingelheim International GmbH, Novartis Pharmaceuticals, and Pfizer) to make their medical products available among populations that could not otherwise afford them. Distribution needs for medicines are determined by Axios, whose experts work with local healthcare institutions to determine needs and the best methods of circulation.
One such drug access program is the Glivec International Patient Assistance Program (GIPAP). Glivec® (imatinib mesylate), which is marketed as Gleevec® in the United States, is approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration for the treatment of Philadelphia chromosome–positive chronic myeloid leukemia (CML) and c-kit-positive gastrointestinal stromal tumors (GIST). Through GIPAP, Axios and Novartis, makers of Glivec, have made the drug available in about 45 low-income countries. To be eligible for GIPAP, nations must have limited basic health services and Glivec must not be commercially available. Without assistance through GIPAP, it’s unlikely that CML and GIST patients in these countries would have a promising treatment option.
Based on the success of GIPAP, Axios and affiliates are working to increase access to other medical products throughout the developing world.
Pioneering Healthcare Solutions
Axios also works toward improvements in healthcare systems in countries in need. Axios’s efforts to improve breast cancer awareness, detection, and treatment in Ethiopia—the Ethiopia Breast Cancer Initiative—serve as an example of the potential impact such programs can have in the developing world.
With a grant from pharmaceutical company AstraZeneca, Axios has launched a program to improve breast cancer screening and management at a hospital in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. The initiative includes the installation of mammography and ultrasound equipment but most importantly is aimed at increasing awareness about early detection and establishing clinical guidelines to deliver high-quality care. Founded in 2005, the program has reached thousands of patients, and its success has earned worldwide recognition, including that of the Lance Armstrong Foundation, which has cited the initiative as “a model for action on cancer in developing countries.”
“There’s a lot to be done with little means,” explains Dr. Saba of the effectiveness of the Ethiopian program. Such focused interventions, he says, can “allow women in these countries to access better care than they do now and to be able to live longer.” But most important, he says, is that the magnitude and the cost of cancer in the developing world—in both human and monetary terms—is a growing problem in urgent need of action. It’s clear, in hearing Dr. Saba describe the issue, that the efforts of Axios to improve and sustain cancer screening, prevention, and care in poorer countries are critical and will continue to expand.
Learn more about Axios International at www.axios-group.com.
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