Even though cancer is the third leading cause of death in Mexico and the second in Latin America, 60 percent of cases are preventable or curable if detected timely. Maintaining a healthy lifestyle is the first recommendation to prevent such a disease. However, having access to medical attention with proper infrastructure that allows for effective diagnosis and access to treatment are also key drivers to fight it.
Mexico’s many limitations regarding its public healthcare system and economic inequality can be a barrier to actively fight cancer. A report by Juntos Contra el Cancer (Together Against Cancer) describes the main limitations of the system to fight this disease: disarticulation among first level of care institutions (late diagnosis), few state-of-the-art drugs and segmentation of the health system. All these translates to a mortality rate of 60 percent among cancer patients.
According to Abelardo Meneses, Director General of INCan, socioeconomic problems play a key role in the development of some forms of cancer. “Cervix cancer is more associated with poverty and limited access to healthcare. Colon cancer, on the other hand, is heavily linked to obesity and overweight,” he told MBN. Additionally, Meneses explained that the most frequent cancer in the country is breast cancer, with 27,500 cases per year, followed by prostate cancer (25,000), colon (15,000), thyroid (12,000), cervical (7,870) and lung (7,810).
As a country, Mexico’s actions against cancer are detailed on the General Health Law, which includes an article focused on disease prevention and control. For prevention and health promotion programs, the country destines 2.8 percent of the national health budget. For 2020, this budget was contemplated to increase by just 0.21 percent. In comparison, Canada invests 6.2 percent in prevention and the UK 5.2 percent. While monetary support might be limited, cancer is prioritized within those budgets. However, this can also represent a heavy burden for a budget that has to attend many other patients and other diseases and emergencies.
“At the moment, cancers are still covered 100 percent by IMSS. However, with so many different systems, such as IMSS or ISSSTE, state level care and INSABI, each has had its own problems and challenges,” said Héctor Martínez, President of SMEO, in an interview with MBN. Martínez reflected on the importance of unifying the current healthcare system and of achieving health universalization. “The objective of universal healthcare should not just be limited to medication. The treatment of cancer is multidisciplinary, combining chemotherapy with surgery and radiotherapy. To limit access to just medication, you are dealing with only a third of the problem.” He encouraged the current system to be more inclusive: “the current systems benefit private sector employees receiving care under IMSS, creating an unacceptable inequality.”