News Release - Access to essential cancer medicines is unequal globally

News Release - Access to essential cancer medicines is unequal globally

September 21, 2021


KINGSTON, ON, September 21, 2021 – Patients in most countries of the world do not have access to basic cancer medicines, according to new research from Queen’s University professor Christopher Booth and collaborators at the World Health Organization (WHO). Their paper, published in The Lancet Oncology, asked oncologists worldwide to list the most important cancer medicines and to describe whether patients could access these medicines in their home country.

The WHO has updated and released an Essential Medicines List (EML) every two years since 1977. This list helps policy-makers worldwide prioritize which medicines to provide for patients.

Dr. Booth and his team surveyed 948 frontline cancer doctors from 82 countries to learn which cancer medicines they considered the most important for patient care. 

The research team found that the most important medicines identified by oncologists are primarily older inexpensive chemotherapy and hormone medicines. With one exception, all of the top 20 high-priority cancer medicines are already included on the EML. Oncologists consider these medicines to be the most important because they have large benefits for patients across many common cancers.

The second major, and more concerning, finding was that in most health systems, patients are unable to afford even these basic cancer medicines. In lower/middle-income countries, most patients face major financial barriers to accessing anticancer medications—even older, generic, and inexpensive chemotherapy drugs. Financial barriers also exist in many high-income countries.

“Our study demonstrates that the most important cancer medicines are not sufficiently prioritized by many government health systems. This leads to limited access to even the most fundamental regimens for cancer care,” the researchers found.

“The primary reason why medicines are not available to patients is because they are not affordable. This is tragic as most of these medicines are older generic drugs and provide major benefits to patients. These problems are most pressing in low-middle and upper-middle income countries where the rates of cancer are most rapidly escalating.”

Dr. Booth and collaborators highlight “an urgent need for global and country-level policy action to ensure patients with cancer globally have access to affordable high priority effective medicines.”

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About Queen’s University

Queen’s University has a long history of scholarship, discovery, and innovation that has shaped our collective knowledge and helped address some of the world’s most pressing concerns. Home to more than 25,000 students, the university offers a comprehensive research-intensive environment with prominent strengths in physics, cancer research, geoengineering, data analytics, surveillance studies, art conservation, and mental health research. Welcoming and supporting students from all countries and backgrounds to a vibrant, safe, and supportive community is an important part of the Queen’s experience. Diverse perspectives and a wealth of experience enrich our campus and our community. A core part of our mission is to engage our students, staff, and faculty in international learning and research, both at home and abroad. 

Queen’s University is ranked first in Canada and fifth in the world in the 2021 Time Higher Education Impact Rankings. The rankings measured over 1,200 post-secondary institutions on their work to advance the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).