Addressing Global Income Disparities in Acute Lymphoblastic Leukaemia Care

The stark disparity in the diagnosis and treatment of Acute Lymphoblastic Leukaemia (ALL) between high-income countries (HICs) and low- and middle-income countries (LMICs) highlights a critical issue in global health equity. While HICs have seen significant improvements in ALL outcomes, with five-year survival rates reaching around 80%, LMICs continue to face challenges such as inadequate diagnostic services and limited treatment options, resulting in significantly lower five-year survival rates of approximately 20%. This gap in healthcare capabilities and outcomes underscores the urgent need for a global strategy to address these inequities and ensure that all individuals, regardless of their country’s economic status, have access to the care they need.

Understanding Acute Lymphoblastic Leukaemia

ALL is a type of cancer that predominantly affects the white blood cells and progresses rapidly, making early diagnosis and immediate treatment crucial. According to the American Cancer Society, about 6,550 cases are diagnosed annually in the United States alone, with higher incidence rates reported in children. Symptoms are often nonspecific and include fever, fatigue, and bruising, necessitating specialised diagnostic techniques for confirmation.

Diagnostic Approaches

In HICs, ALL diagnosis is typically confirmed through blood tests, bone marrow biopsies, and sophisticated imaging technologies. Genetic testing is critical in diagnosing and determining the specific subtype of ALL, which can guide targeted treatment approaches. Dr Jane Hollingsworth, a haematologist at Johns Hopkins University, states, “Genetic profiling has revolutionised our understanding of ALL, enabling personalised treatment plans that significantly improve outcomes.”

Conversely, in many LMICs, such basic diagnostic facilities are not readily available. The World Health Organization (WHO) reports that access to essential diagnostic services, such as complete blood count tests, in some African countries is limited, leading to delayed or inaccurate diagnoses. Dr Abasi Ene-Obong, a clinician in Nigeria, comments, “In regions like ours, the lack of infrastructure means that many leukaemia patients are diagnosed at an advanced stage, where treatment options are limited and less effective.”

“The survival gap between HIC[s] and LMIC[s] (>80% compared to ❤0%) is one of the most profound health inequities across different communicable diseases and NCDs,” according to the WHO Global Initiative for Childhood Cancer (GICC), CureAll Framework

Treatment Protocols and Access to Care

Treatment for ALL typically includes chemotherapy, which can be tailored to the genetic features of the leukaemia cells in HICs. More advanced options, such as immunotherapy and stem cell transplants, are also available, leading to improved survival rates. In the United States, the five-year survival rate for children with ALL has increased to 88.5%.

However, the scenario in LMICs is starkly different. “The availability of chemotherapy drugs can be sporadic, and advanced treatments like bone marrow transplants are often not feasible due to cost constraints,” explains Dr. Ene-Obong. The lack of healthcare infrastructure and trained medical professionals complicates the treatment landscape.

Outcome Disparities

These diagnostic and treatment disparities directly impact patient outcomes. Data from the GICC CureAll Framework indicate that the survival rates for ALL in many LMICs are below 30%, a stark contrast to those in HICs. The socio-economic factors, including poverty and lack of health insurance, exacerbate these outcomes, limiting access to care and continuity of treatment.

Innovative Solutions and Global Initiatives

Addressing these disparities requires innovative solutions and robust global initiatives. Research into more affordable, generic chemotherapy drugs and more straightforward diagnostic tests could make a significant difference.

Pharmaceutical interventions by the companies

By prioritising the development of cost-effective treatments and facilitating more affordable pricing models, pharmaceutical companies can enhance access to essential medicines in underserved regions. Investing in local healthcare infrastructure and training, collaborating with global health organisations, and participating in patent pools or licensing agreements to allow generic manufacturing could dramatically improve treatment accessibility. Engaging in these initiatives aligns with ethical business practices and expands market reach, potentially leading to sustained corporate growth and a stronger global presence in the fight against leukaemia.

Strategies that include task shifting, improving the quality of medicines, and innovative healthcare service delivery routes could make a significant difference. For example, the Observer Research Foundation recently discovered innovation; in South Africa, the Central Chronic Medication Dispensing and Distribution (CCMDD/Dablapmeds) program has significantly improved access to chronic medication for stable patients by allowing them to collect their medication from external contracted pick-up points or fast lanes at public facilities using an SMS code, patients can save time and transport costs.

International efforts and skills sharing

A twinning programme is an innovative approach to enhancing child cancer care by fostering collaboration between hospitals in high-income countries (HICs) and those in low- and middle-income countries (LMICs). These “Twin Centers” are designed to share expertise, resources, and medical practices to improve childhood cancer diagnosis, treatment, and overall management. The programme includes setting up registries, employing data managers to monitor and optimise care, and developing educational tools for nurses to enhance local capacities. This strategic partnership not only aims to transfer knowledge and medical practices but also addresses critical gaps in resources and expertise that often exist in LMIC settings, thereby improving patient outcomes and building sustainable healthcare infrastructures.

A collaborative initiative between St. Jude Global and the World Health Organization (WHO) aims to enhance global access to essential, life-saving cancer treatments for children. This effort responds to widespread challenges in securing safe and effective medications, as underscored by the fact that 71% of low-income countries experience significant shortages in cancer medicines. These shortages stem from inconsistent availability due to supply and demand fluctuations and complex regulatory environments. Additionally, the pursuit of the lowest-cost medications can compromise quality, further endangering patient safety. Financially, the exclusion of pediatric cancer medications from national healthcare budgets frequently imposes severe economic strains on families in low- and middle-income countries. This initiative was bolstered by a resolution for improved access to essential medicines, adopted at the 70th World Health Assembly, highlighting a global commitment to overcoming these barriers in cancer care.


The striking difference in ALL outcomes between HICs and LMICs emphasises the critical importance of developing and implementing a global strategy to promote healthcare equity. Dr. Hollingsworth aptly states, “We need a collective commitment to not only develop medical technologies but also ensure they are accessible where they are most needed.” By working together to bridge this gap, we can save countless lives and make significant progress towards achieving the broader sustainable development goals of health and well-being for all. Addressing the disparities in ALL diagnoses and treatments is a moral imperative and a crucial step in building a more equitable and sustainable future for all.



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Christopher Nial
Christopher Nial
Christopher Nial is closely monitoring climate change impact on global public health. He serves as a Senior Partner at FINN Partners, is part of the Global Public Health Group, and co-leads public health initiatives across Europe, the Middle East, and Africa.
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