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October 2017

Affordability of Cancer Drugs in Sub-Saharan Africa: Effects of Pricing on Needless Loss of Life

Author Affiliations
  • 1Division of Hematology–Oncology, University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia
  • 2University of Global Health Equity, Kigali, Rwanda
  • 3Department of Global Health and Social Medicine, Harvard Medical School, Boston, Massachusetts
  • 4Abramson Cancer Center, Division of Hematology-Oncology, University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia
JAMA Oncol. 2017;3(10):1301-1302. doi:10.1001/jamaoncol.2017.0479

In June 2016, the chief executive officer of a large pharmaceutical company stated, “Giving out free cancer drugs would not help the poorest parts of Africa.”1 He added that training doctors, not the cost of drugs, was the biggest issue in the world's poorest countries. While his position in part reflects real challenges that exist in resource-constrained settings, it overlooks what is possible and what has been done. Above all it perpetuates the fallacy that it is impossible to treat cancer in Africa. We believe that the counterfactual choice—what would happen if we give free cancer drugs to some parts of Africa where safe and effective cancer treatment centers exist?—should be emphasized.