Cancer care delivery innovations, experiences and challenges during the COVID-19 pandemic: The Rwanda experience

Globally, cancer is the second leading cause of mortality. In 2018, 9.6 million lives were lost to cancer of which over 70% occurred in low and middle-income countries (LMICs) where limited access to cancer care and overwhelming late disease presentations negatively impact cancer related survival and quality of life [1]. Moreover, globally, new cancer cases are expected to increase from 18.1 million in 2018 to 21.4 million by 2030 [2]. In settings of poor health care systems and impoverished communities, the scarcity of and limited access to diagnostic and treatment modalities negatively impacts health outcomes and undermines achievement of the universal health care coverage (UHC) targets.

Over the past 20 years, Rwanda has recorded gains in key health indicators including increased life expectancy (from 48.6 in 2000 to 67.4 in 2015); declines in maternal mortality (from 1071 in 2000 to 210 per 100 000 live births in 2015) [3]. Concurrently, impressive gains were registered in the control of infectious diseases such as HIV, tuberculosis and malaria [3]. However, little gains have been recorded for the management of non-communicable diseases (NCDs) where age-standardized NCD mortality rates slightly decreased from 894.9 to 548.6 deaths per 100 000 people from 2000 to 2016 [4,5]. Anecdotally, plausible hindrances to the prevention and control of NCDs in Rwanda include low community awareness, lack of trained providers, limited access to diagnostic services and treatment capacity for complicated cases

Is Independent Clinical Research Possible in Low- and Middle-Income Countries? A Roadmap to Address Persistent and New Barriers and Challenges

Cancer is an increasing and significant problem for both high- and low- and middle-income countries. Basic, translational, and clinical research efforts have been instrumental in generating the outstanding improvements we have witnessed over the last few decades, answering important questions, and improving patient outcomes. Arguably, a substantial portion of currently ongoing research is sponsored by the pharmaceutical industy and specifically addresses questions under industry interests, most of which apply to high-income countries, leaving behind problems related to the much larger and underserved population of patients with cancer in low- and middle-income countries. In this scenario, discussing independent academic research is an important challenge, particularly for these countries. Although different countries and institutions face different problems while establishing independent research agendas, some generalizable barriers can be identified. A solid regulatory and ethical framework, a strong and sustainable technical supporting infrastructure, and motivated and experienced investigators are all paramount to build a viable and productive academic research program. Securing funding for research, although not the only hurdle, is certainly one of the most basic hurdles to overcome. Noticeably, and as an added impediment, public and governmental support for cancer research has been decreasing in high-income countries and is almost nonexistent in the rest of the world. We propose an initial careful diagnostic assessment of the research resource scenario of each institution/country and adjustment of the strategic development plan according to four different research resource restriction levels. Although not necessarily applicable to all situations, this model can be helpful if adjusted to each local or regional situation

Epidemiologic Pattern of Cancer in Kathmandu Valley, Nepal: Findings of Population-Based Cancer Registry, 2018

Although cancer is an important and growing public health issue in Nepal, the country lacked any population-based cancer registry (PBCR) until 2018. In this study, we describe the establishment of the PBCR for the first time in Nepal and use the registry data to understand incidence, mortality, and patterns of cancer in the Kathmandu Valley (consisting of Kathmandu, Lalitpur, and Bhaktapur districts), which comprises 10.5% of the estimated 29 million population of Nepal in 2018.

The PBCR collects information from facilities and communities through the active process. The facilities include cancer or general hospitals, pathology laboratories, hospice, and Ayurvedic centers. In the communities, the field enumerators or female community health volunteers collected the data from the households. In addition, the Social Security and Nursing Division under the Department of Health Services, which provides subsidy for cancer treatment of underprivileged patients, was another major source of data. The collected data were verified for residence, accuracy, and completeness and then entered and analyzed using CanReg5 software.

In the Kathmandu Valley, the PBCR registered 2,156 new cancer cases with overall age-adjusted incidence rate for all cancers of 95.7 per 100,000 population (95.3 for males and 98.1 for females). The age-adjusted mortality rate for males was 36.3 (n = 365) and for females 27.0 (n = 305) per 100,000 population. We found that the commonest cancers in males were lung and stomach, whereas in females, they were breast and lung cancer. Gallbladder cancer was among the top five common cancers in both sex.

These findings provide a milestone to understand the cancer burden in the country for the first time using the PBCR and will be helpful to develop and prioritize cancer control strategies.

Primary care and pulmonary physicians’ knowledge and practice concerning screening for lung cancer in Lebanon, a middle‐income country

Screening for lung cancer with low‐dose computed tomography (LDCT) was shown to reduce lung cancer incidence and overall mortality, and it has been recently included in international guidelines. Despite the rising burden of lung cancer in low and middle‐income countries (LMICs) such as Lebanon, little is known about what primary care physicians or pulmonologists know and think about LDCT as a screening procedure for lung cancer, and if they recommend it.

Evaluate the knowledge about LDCT and implementation of international guidelines for lung cancer screening among Lebanese primary care physicians (PCPs) and pulmonary specialists.

PCPs and PUs based in Lebanon were surveyed concerning knowledge and practices related to lung cancer screening by self‐administered paper questionnaires.

73.8% of PCPs and 60.7% of pulmonary specialists recognized LDCT as an effective tool for lung cancer screening, with 63.6% of PCPs and 71% of pulmonary specialists having used it for screening. However, only 23.4% of PCPs and 14.5% of pulmonary specialists recognized the eligibility criteria for screening. Chest X‐ray was recognized as ineffective by only 55.8% of PCPs and 40.7% of pulmonary specialists; indeed, 30.2% of PCPs and 46% of pulmonary specialists continue using it for screening. The majority have initiated a discussion about the risks and benefits of lung cancer screening.

PCPs and pulmonary specialists are initiating discussions and ordering LDCT for lung cancer screening. However, a significant proportion of both specialties are still using a non‐recommended screening tool (chest x‐ray); only few PCPs and pulmonary specialists recognized the population at risk for which screening is recommended. Targeted provider education is needed to close the knowledge gap and promote proper implementation of guidelines for lung cancer screening.

The Out-of-Pocket Cost Burden of Cancer Care—A Systematic Literature Review

Background: Out-of-pocket costs pose a substantial economic burden to cancer patients and their families. The purpose of this study was to evaluate the literature on out-of-pocket costs of cancer care. Methods: A systematic literature review was conducted to identify studies that estimated the out-of-pocket cost burden faced by cancer patients and their caregivers. The average monthly out-of-pocket costs per patient were reported/estimated and converted to 2018 USD. Costs were reported as medical and non-medical costs and were reported across countries or country income levels by cancer site, where possible, and category. The out-of-pocket burden was estimated as the average proportion of income spent as non-reimbursable costs. Results: Among all cancers, adult patients and caregivers in the U.S. spent between USD 180 and USD 2600 per month, compared to USD 15–400 in Canada, USD 4–609 in Western Europe, and USD 58–438 in Australia. Patients with breast or colorectal cancer spent around USD 200 per month, while pediatric cancer patients spent USD 800. Patients spent USD 288 per month on cancer medications in the U.S. and USD 40 in other high-income countries (HICs). The average costs for medical consultations and in-hospital care were estimated between USD 40–71 in HICs. Cancer patients and caregivers spent 42% and 16% of their annual income on out-of-pocket expenses in low- and middle-income countries and HICs, respectively. Conclusions: We found evidence that cancer is associated with high out-of-pocket costs. Healthcare systems have an opportunity to improve the coverage of medical and non-medical costs for cancer patients to help alleviate this burden and ensure equitable access to car

Financial toxicity of cancer care in low and middle-income countries: a systematic review and meta-analysis

Introduction: The costs associated with cancer diagnosis, treatment and care present enormous financial toxicity. However, evidence of financial toxicity associated with cancer in low and middle-income countries (LMICs) is scarce.

Aim: To identify the extent of cancer-related financial toxicity and how it has been measured in LMICs.

Methods: Four electronic databases were searched to identify studies of any design that reported financial toxicity among cancer patients in LMICs. Random-effects meta-analysis was used to derive the pooled prevalence of financial toxicity. Sub-group analyses were performed according to: costs; and determinants of financial toxicity.

Results: A total of 31 studies were included in this systematic review and meta-analysis. The pooled prevalence of financial toxicity was 56.96% [95% CI, 30.51, 106.32]. In sub-group meta-analyses, the financial toxicity was higher among cancer patients with household size of more than four (1.17% [95% CI, 1.03, 1.32]; p = 0.02; I2 = 0%), multiple cycles of chemotherapy (1.94% [95% CI, 1.00, 3.75]; p = 0.05; I2 = 43%) and private health facilities (2.87% [95% CI, 1.89, 4.35]; p < 0.00001; I2 = 26%). Mean medical costs per cancer patients were $2,740.18 [95% CI, $1,953.62, $3,526.74]. The ratio of cost of care to gross domestic product (GDP) per capita varied considerably across the LMICs included in this review, which ranged from 0.06 in Vietnam to 327.65 in Ethiopia.

Conclusions: This study indicates that cancer diagnosis, treatment and care impose high financial toxicity on cancer patients in LMICs. Further rigorous research on cancer-related financial toxicity is needed.

Multisector Collaborations and Global Oncology: The Only Way Forward

At the 12th meeting of AORTIC (African Organization for Research and Training in Cancer) in Maputo, Mozambique, held between November 5 and November 8, 2019, a special workshop was organized to focus on the need for collaboration and coordination between governments and health systems in Africa with academic, industry, association, and other non-governmental organizations to effect sustainable positive change for the care of patients with cancer.
Representatives from seven different projects in Africa presented implementation science and demonstration projects of their to date efforts in cancer system improvement including patient access, South-South partnerships, in-country specialized training, palliative care consortium, treatment outcomes, and focused pathology and diagnostic capacity building. Key partners of the various projects served as moderators and commentators during the session.
From across all the presentations, lessons learned and exemplary evidence of the value of partnerships were gathered and summarized.
The concluding synthesis of the presentations determined that with the broad needs across cancer requiring in-depth expertise at each point on a patient’s journey, no single organization can effect change alone. Multipartner collaborations not only should be the norm but should also be coordinated so that efforts are not duplicated and maximum patient access to cancer diagnosis and care is achieved.

Anastomotic leak following oesophagectomy: research priorities from an international Delphi consensus study

The Oesophago-Gastric Anastomosis Audit (OGAA) is an international collaborative group set up to study anastomotic leak outcomes after oesophagectomy for cancer. This Delphi study aimed to prioritize future research areas of unmet clinical need in RCTs to reduce anastomotic leaks.

A modified Delphi process was overseen by the OGAA committee, national leads, and engaged clinicians from high-income countries (HICs) and low/middle-income countries (LMICs). A three‐stage iterative process was used to prioritize research topics, including a scoping systematic review (stage 1), and two rounds of anonymous electronic voting (stages 2 and 3) addressing research priority and ability to recruit. Stratified analyses were performed by country income.

In stage 1, the steering committee proposed research topics across six domains: preoperative optimization, surgical oncology, technical approach, anastomotic technique, enhanced recovery and nutrition, and management of leaks. In stages 2 and stage 3, 192 and 171 respondents respectively participated in online voting. Prioritized research topics include prehabilitation, anastomotic technique, and timing of surgery after neoadjuvant chemo(radio)therapy. Stratified analyses by country income demonstrated no significant differences in research priorities between HICs and LMICs. However, for ability to recruit, there were significant differences between LMICs and HICs for themes related to the technical approach (minimally invasive, width of gastric tube, ischaemic preconditioning) and location of the anastomosis.

Several areas of research priority are consistent across LMICs and HICs, but discrepancies in ability to recruit by country income will inform future study design.

Access to Radiotherapy for Cancer treatment (ARC) Project’: Guidance for low and middle-income countries establishing safe and sustainable radiotherapy services

Efforts to improve access to cancer care, including radiotherapy services in low and middle-income countries (LMICs) is challenging. Many radiotherapy initiatives in LMICs have failed to fully deliver on their promise because of multi-faceted barriers at the systems, organisational and patient levels, leading to significant wastage of scarce resources. Greater guidance on how to assess and build LMICs’ readiness for establishing sustainable radiotherapy services is needed to improve cancer care outcomes in LMICs. 𝗔𝗶𝗺: The ‘𝗔ccess to 𝗥adiotherapy for 𝗖ancer treatment (ARC) Project’ aimed to provide practical guidance to LMICs on establishing safe and sustainable radiotherapy services. 𝗠𝗲𝘁𝗵𝗼𝗱𝘀: The mixed qualitative methods ARC Project involved a: systematic review; and two-part qualitative study. The systematic review synthesised strategies adopted by LMICs to improve access to cancer treatment and palliative care. Semi-structured interviews undertaken with global radiotherapy experts explored perceived facilitators and barriers to establishing sustainable radiotherapy services in LMICs. The mid-point meta-inference of the systematic review and semi-structured interview data generated a draft list of requirements, which was circulated to global experts during the second part-of the qualitative study. The final meta-inference was undertaken following the completion of the three studies. 𝗙𝗶𝗻𝗱𝗶𝗻𝗴𝘀: The systematic review identified that comparatively few studies have focused specifically on improving radiotherapy in LMICs, with no research evaluating effectiveness. The semi-structured interviews identified three key facilitators to establishing sustainable radiotherapy services in LMICs, namely: committing to a vision of improving cancer care; making it happen and sustaining a safe service; and leveraging off radiotherapy to strengthen integrated cancer care. The mid-point meta-inference generated 42 potential requirements, which were organised into four readiness domains: commitment (n=13); cooperation (n=7); capacity (n=17); and catalyst (n=5). The participant validation confirmed 37 of the generated requirements as relevant for inclusion in a radiotherapy service development readiness self-assessment guide for use by LMICs. The end-point meta-inference of the ARC Project’s integrated data presented the ‘𝗥𝗘adiness 𝗦𝗘lf-𝗔ssessment (RESEA) Guide’, with 120 questions that may help LMICs at macro and meso level to determine and create action plans to improve their readiness to establish radiotherapy services. 𝗖𝗼𝗻𝗰𝗹𝘂𝘀𝗶𝗼𝗻𝘀: The ARC Project has identified a complex combination of facilitators and barriers that influence the establishment of sustainable radiotherapy services in LMICs. It has developed a RESEA Guide to provide support for LMICs seeking to establish sustainable radiotherapy services. Further work is needed to evaluate the acceptability and feasibility of the RESEA Guide and inform further refinements.

Rehabilitation for cancer survivors: How we can reduce the healthcare service inequality in low- and middle income countries.

Cancer diagnosis often substantially affects patient’s physical, psychological, and emotional status. The majority of cancer patients experience declining of energy, activity levels, social-cultural participation and relationships. In addition, cancer progression and side effects of aggressive cancer treatment often cause debilitating pain, fatigue, weakness, joint stiffness, depression, emotional instability, limited mobility, poor nutritional status, skin breakdown, bowel dysfunction, swallowing difficulty, and lymphedema leading into functional impairment and disability that can be addressed through rehabilitation care. Comprehensive care models by involving cancer rehabilitation have resulted in significant improvement of patient’s quality of life. Although cancer rehabilitation has been implemented in many high income countries, it is either not yet or sub-optimally delivered in most low and middle income countries. In this review, we discussed gaps regarding cancer rehabilitation services and identified opportunities to improve quality of cancer care in developing countries. Future collaborations among international organizations and stakeholders of health care delivery systems are required to initiate and improve high quality cancer rehabilitation in the developing countries.