Australia leads region on approach to cancer care

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Australia has topped all three categories in a new report looking at country approaches to cancer in the Asia Pacific region.

The report from The Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU) - Cancer preparedness in Asia Pacific: Progress towards universal cancer control - was commissioned by Roche.

The report is based on the experiences of ten countries across the region - Australia, China, India, Indonesia, Japan, Malaysia, Philippines, South Korea, Thailand and Vietnam.

It finds cancer is and will remain a significant health issue in the region, pointing to research showing the incidence is expected to increase by around 35 per cent over the ten years to 2030, with mortality rising by nearly 40 per cent.

Australia, which ranked highest in a 2019 global analysis of 28 countries, continues to lead in this 2020 Asia Pacific analysis. 

Australia recorded an overall score of 90.5 (100), ahead of South Korea (81.5), Malaysia (78.7), Japan (76.2), China (69.7), Thailand (63.3), Indonesia (57.4), India (50.7), Vietnam (44.5) and Philippines (41.6).

The report's three categories are 'policy and planning', 'care delivery' and 'health systems and governance'. 

Its findings reflect the significant variabilities across the region with some countries facing particular challenges.

It finds a link between income levels and performance in overall cancer preparedness, broadly with high-income countries in the lead, followed by upper-middle-income and then lower-middle-income countries.

Lower-middle-income countries, including Malaysia, the Philippines and Vietnam, have what the report describes as 'emerging policy and institutional foundations' for cancer patients but they still face the challenge of late diagnosis and mortality.

Malaysia and Thailand did score above average for 'cancer policy planning' with Australia topping the category.

The report highlighted Australia's anti-tobacco policy, support for research and national cancer control plans with targets covering the full continuum in cancer care, supportive and palliative care and patient-centred care.

The report finds Australia has the lowest rate of smoking across the region but a high rate of physical inactivity and by far the highest rate of obesity.

"As the cancer challenge grows in Asia’s middle-income countries, cancer plans will require constant updates and refinements if they are to provide adequate guidance for cancer programmes," says the report.

Australia also topped the 'care delivery' category ahead of Malaysia, South Korea and Japan. It is highlighted for the extensive coverage it provides for the cervical cancer vaccine (HPV) and cancer screening programs.

Australia ranked second behind Japan on the measure of health spending as a proportion of gross domestic product.

The report identifies the use of health technology assessment (HTA) as "an important measure of institutional development".

"Australia and South Korea got top scores due to the presence of HTA programmes and a legislative requirement for HTA results to be used in decision making," it says.

The report concludes by highlighting the gaps in service availability and its provision across the region and even within countries.

“We are encouraged that countries across the region are increasing their focus on cancer preparedness from a policy perspective and making positive progress," said Rachel Frizberg, Roche Pharma area head of Asia Pacific.

“However, we need to collectively strengthen our efforts to implement these policies and achieve better outcomes for patients. This is even more apparent in light of the current COVID-19 pandemic, which has impacted all areas of cancer care. At Roche, we are committed to working with governments and healthcare stakeholders across Asia Pacific to support their cancer preparedness efforts and build health systems that are future-ready."