Significant Delays in Cancer Services Across EU Region in Wake of COVID-19
The last quarter of 2021 saw a disruption in cancer care – screening and treatment – of between 5 to 50% in all countries reporting, according to the Global Pulse Survey, conducted by the World Health Organization (WHO), on the continuity of essential health services during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Speaking ahead of World Cancer Day, on February 4th, Dr. Hans Henri P. Kluge, WHO Regional Director for Europe said that cancer screening, diagnosis, and treatment “have suffered in an unprecedented way as health services have struggled to respond to COVID-19.”
The impact on cancer care can be seen right across the European Region and according to Dr. Kluge,
- during the early stages of the pandemic, the diagnosis of invasive tumours fell by 44% in Belgium
- in Italy, colorectal screenings decreased by 46% between 2019 and 2020
- in Spain, the number of cancers diagnosed in 2020 was 34% lower than expected
According to the Survey, the situation has improved since the first quarter of last year, where services were disrupted by more than 50% in 44% of countries, and by between 5 to 50% in the rest, but the knock-on effect of this disruption will be felt for years.
Speaking in Copenhagen, Dr. Kluge said, “Tomorrow is World Cancer Day, and I want to take the opportunity to underscore the catastrophic impact the pandemic has had over the past 2 years on people with cancer. The impact of COVID-19 indeed goes far beyond the disease itself. Cancer touches all our lives, either directly or through its effect on family and loved ones. 1 in 4 people in Europe and central Asia will receive a cancer diagnosis in their lifetime. It is one of the leading causes of mortality and morbidity in the WHO European Region, accounting for more than 20% of all deaths.”
To mark World Cancer Day, WHO Europe is publishing a new guide on cancer screening, summarizing evidence and ethics, and addressing misconceptions. The publication is part of an initiative introduced a year ago – United Action Against Cancer – a commitment by WHO to fast track the elimination of cancer as a life-threatening disease in Europe and Central Asia – through cost-effective, evidence-based policies at every point of cancer care.
Dr. Kluge concluded, “From where we stand now, as we see cases surge across Europe and central Asia, we remain at a critical juncture. But I remain optimistic that if we use the circumstances before us, we have the opportunity to experience more stable days ahead – a time when we will be able to not only manage COVID-19, but also have the capacity to address other urgent health priorities.”