Research shows more than two million cancer patients worldwide are unable to receive radiotherapy treatment due to a lack of radiotherapy megavoltage machines (MVM).
As the demand for radiotherapy increases due to the rise in the incidences of cancer all over the world, a big shortage of over 7 000 radiotherapy machines worldwide means that over two million cancer patients are unable to get the treatment they need.
“There is a significant increase in reported cancer cases, especially in lower to medium income countries,” says Erhardt Korf, COO of Equra Health, one of the country’s top radiotherapy oncology suppliers and the preferred radiotherapy partner of ICON (Independent Clinical Oncology Network). Equra Health currently offers radiotherapy in eight of South Africa’s nine provinces and, through a new company called Equra Health Africa, with Korf as its CEO, which is in the process of opening a new radiotherapy unit in Kenya – East Africa.
Equra Health also recently made news with the arrival of Africa’s first Elekta Versa HD linear accelerator at The Oncology Centre in Durban.
“The problem we see with cancer in Africa is that populations are changing their lifestyles due to improvements in living standards, which means an exposure to processed, sugary foods and adoption of unhealthy habits like smoking and a lack of exercise,” says Korf.
He says almost 50% of new cancer cases can benefit from radiotherapy and while this clearly makes the case for the opening of more radiotherapy treatment facilities, the cost of building and operating these as well as the need for existing medical infrastructure and local partnerships are very real obstacles, not only in Africa, but in the rest of the world as well.
Poverty, political instability and corruption also lead to cancer services being low on government priorities. “Radiotherapy is often perceived as costly, despite evidence to the contrary,” says Dr Ernst Marais, Operations Executive at ICON officer. He says radiotherapy is a vital part of the network’s mission to increase good quality cancer care to more patients.
In South Africa, there is a shortage of about 40 radiotherapy machines. But South Africa fares significantly better than some African countries in which there are no radiation services at all and where patients have to fly to India or to Europe for treatment.
This is why Equra Health Africa is bringing services to East Africa, with plans afoot to open radiation centres in other countries in the region, in addition to Kenya.
Korf recently discussed research by doctors from Australia, Austria and France, entitled, “Global Access to Radiotherapy Services: Have We Made Progress During the Past Decade?” which states that access to radiotherapy treatment varies significantly between countries.
It starts off by pointing out that incidences of major cancers will increase by 1.2 million new cases each year by 2030, pushing the annual number to more than 23 million. The report also says that the increases will be proportionally higher in low- and middle-income countries.
The number of new cases of cancer in 2012 was 14.1 million compared to 10.9 million in 2002 – an increase of 29% in 10 years.
Dr Marais says that radiotherapy is a vital component of cancer care services as it can be used to cure cancers, either alone or in combination with systemic therapies and surgery.
“ICON supports radiotherapy as this kind of treatment has been proven to have less side effects than other treatments, while being very effective on the other hand,” says Dr Marais. “It is also more patient-friendly, far less invasive and painful than many other treatment options.”
Korf agrees. “Education is a very important part of addressing the problem of radiotherapy shortages. We need more awareness in the public sector and communities about what radiation therapy is all about and how it can help cure cancer and reduce the burden of cancer treatment costs.”