Sunday, January 11, 2009

Comparative Concern

A new report on global incidence of cancer by the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) was released in December 2008. With all the news of Wall Street malfeasance, it really didn’t get many headlines. Fortunately WebMD covered the story.

Every year, 12 million people are diagnosed with cancer. Globally, 8 million died of cancer in 2007. Out of a population of 6.7 billion, that is approximately a 0.12% death rate annually.

With the rise of smoking in the developing world over the past decades, long-term induced illnesses such as cancer will begin to impact an increasingly aging population. Combine this with the sustained incidences of HIV/AIDS (which worsens cancer survival rates). By 2030, the crisis will result in a projected 27 million cancer cases annually, and 17 million deaths.

In other words, over the next two decades, cancer will double in scale as a global problem.

The global population will be an estimated 8.1 billion by 2030. Thus annual cancer death rates would equate to 0.21% of the world population.

Even at present rates of mortality, over six years there would be approximately 50 million deaths and overall 72 million diagnosed cases of cancer. That casualty rate would exceed World War I death tolls, and come close to equaling the casualties suffered by World War II.

By 2030, it would be the equivalent of having a perpetual Second World War being waged on humankind. A holocaust of healthcare.

Yet, like the lobster getting used to boiling in a pot, we fail to act with due regard for cancer.

The fact is that we can, and do, affect cancer onset probabilities and cancer survival rates through research, medicine, education, environmental factors and lifestyle changes (primarily smoking and obesity). These are all elements in our society’s control. Though, perhaps, were we more united and focused, we might be able to do even better.

Meanwhile, not to ever minimize the death of a single human, other crises grab the headlines and cause us to focus our attention towards events which we cannot control or effectively alter.

Rates of Death

The following comparison may outrage some—for indeed, there is a difference between violence perpetrated upon humans, and the ravages of a disease that is outside of direct human control—yet consider the mortality to cancer versus the mortality of the present Gaza crisis.

In 15 days, 800 people have died. Annualized as a death rate, that would be a casualty figure of 19,466. This mortality rate is concentrated in the Palestinian population of 1.48 million residing in the Gaza Strip. Were that same casualty rate inflicted upon the entire world at that pace (a ratio of 800 deaths : 1.48 million population over 15 days, compared to 6.7 billion global population over 1 year), the number of deaths globally would be, approximately 88 million people in one year.

In other words, at the present rate of death, the Israeli offensive against Gaza Strip, were it applied on a global basis, would wipe out more people in one year than World War II slaughtered over six years (1939-1945 inclusive).

In absolute terms, the Gaza Crisis cannot equate to the crisis of cancer. Even if the Israelis kept up the offensive for a full year, barring a humanitarian catastrophe caused by a food, water or disease crisis, the number of casualties inflicted would be in the tens of thousands. Even at its worst and maximal extents, the Israelis could “only” exterminate 1.48 million Palestinians.

More people die of that from cancer by many times annually.

The issue is the conscious control and choices that humans make, versus the mindless ravage of disease.

What is Your Choice?

Which issue do you feel is easier to solve? Cancer on a global basis, or Middle East peace? What barriers do you believe we need to overcome to marshal global determination to defeat cancer? What barriers do you believe we need to overcome Palestinian-Israeli violence?

Which of these issues would you address first? How? What do you expect our governments to do to address these crises? What about our businesses? Our social institutions and faiths?

What strategies should we employ right now, starting today, and what strategies do we need to develop to keep these problems in check over the years ahead?

Let us know what you think!

-Peter Corless.
Global Understanding Institute

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