While tremendous inroads have been made over the last several decades against respiratory infections, diarrheal disease, birth injuries, and vaccine-preventable infections like measles, there has been an explosive growth in cancer rates worldwide. Direct Relief supports effective global health initiatives aimed at decreasing the burden of cancer for vulnerable populations in the developing world, where over half of cancer cases occur. Direct Relief supports a number of multi-year programs that include: breast cancer awareness and early detection, cervical cancer screening, Burkitt’s lymphoma treatment, and pediatric cancer family support services.
Breast Cancer Awareness and Early Detection
Breast cancer is one of the most common cancers affecting women around the world. Women living in less developed countries often lack access to education and treatment, putting them at greater risk for premature death – it is estimated that almost 50 percent of breast cancer cases and 58 percent of breast cancer deaths occur in developing countries. An increase in awareness and access to screening services, diagnosis, and treatment can significantly reduce the number of women who will experience or die from breast cancer.
To improve outcomes for vulnerable women who lack access to breast cancer education and treatment, Direct Relief supports healthcare facilities and programs that provide comprehensive breast cancer services to women, regardless of their ability to pay.
Direct Relief began collaborating with Breast Cancer International (BCI) in 2014 in an effort to decrease breast cancer mortality in Ghana. BCI works with local hospitals to provide a full range of breast cancer services that include education, outreach, screening, treatment, and social support. This assistance has enabled the expansion of education and screening services and provided critically needed medical goods for use in surgical procedures, treatment regimens, and palliative care services.
Screening for Cervical Cancer in Haiti
Although cervical cancer is one of the most preventable and treatable forms of cancer, it is the second most common cancer found among women worldwide. Almost 300,000 women die each year from cervical cancer and 80 percent of those deaths occur in developing countries.
Over the past several decades the cervical cancer burden has decreased dramatically in developed countries with the widespread adoption of cervical cancer screening programs. In developing countries, however, it is estimated that only five percent of women have been screened for cervical cancer—a stark contrast to the 40-50 percent of women in developed countries who have been screened.
In Haiti, the incidence of cervical cancer ranks among the highest in the world. In an effort to reduce the incidence of this disease in Haitian women, Direct Relief—in partnership with Basic Health International (BHI)—supports a cervical cancer screening and training program with long-time Haitian partner, Fondation St. Luc, a division of St. Damien Hospital in Port-au-Prince.
Read more about the Cervical Cancer Screening and Training Program in Haiti
Treating Children with Burkitt’s Lymphoma in Africa
Burkitt’s lymphoma is an aggressive cancer that accounts for more than half of all childhood cancers in equatorial Africa. It is a rare disease everywhere else. The disease is related to the Epstein-Barr virus (EBV), the first virus to be associated with human cancer, and current research has suggested that malaria may also play a role in the development of Burkitt’s lymphoma. Research is underway around the shore of Lake Victoria in East Africa, where the burden of malaria and Burkitt’s lymphoma is high.
In 2012, Direct Relief began collaborating with The Burkitt’s Lymphoma Fund for Africa (BLFA) to fund and support treatment of children in Africa for Burkitt’s lymphoma. Direct Relief collaborates with the BLFA in support of programs in Uganda, Kenya, and Tanzania. In Uganda, Direct Relief is partnering with the Uganda Program on Cancer & Infectious Diseases (UPCID) who aims to treat 300 children with Burkitt’s lymphoma in a 2 year period. In Uganda, Burkitt’s lymphoma is the most common cancer for children and the average age of a child with the disease is five. A fast-growing tumor often develops in the jaw or abdomen that can interfere with breathing and make it difficult for young patients to feed adequately, leading to malnutrition. Currently, the five-year survival rate in Uganda is less than 40 percent.
“More than 85 percent of these children could be cured for less than $600 a case,” said Corey Casper, M.D., M.P.H., associate member of the Hutchinson Center’s Vaccine and Infectious Disease Division and co-scientific director of the UCI/Hutchinson Center Cancer Alliance.
In Tanzania, Direct Relief is partnering with the Sota Health Center, a rural health facility supported by the SHED Foundation where many young lives are being transformed by cancer treatment, and in Kenya, Direct Relief works with the Kisumu-based OGRA Foundation to support a comprehensive Burkitt’s Program at the Nyanza Provincial General Hospital.
Read more about the Burkitt’s Lymphoma Program in Africa