Law and cancer

Cancer and non-communicable diseases (NCDs)

Cancer and other non-communicable diseases – such as cardiovascular disease, chronic respiratory diseases, and diabetes – are responsible for over 70 per cent of all deaths globally. The majority of these deaths occur in low- and middle-income countries, placing a disproportionate burden on countries that are least equipped to respond.

Even in high-income countries, major social inequalities exist, especially by people in marginalised or disadvantaged communities. This burden of disease hinders poverty reduction efforts, in particular, by diminishing resources within families, reducing workforce productivity, and placing tremendous demands on already strained health systems and economies. By 2010, the economic cost of cancer alone had reached US$1.16 trillion annually.

Tackling cancer and other NCDs is therefore an urgent development priority and one that requires concerted global action. It is essential that countries implement comprehensive and cost-effective strategies to mitigate the escalating NCD burden – law is central to this.

The role of law

Health is a fundamental human right, yet at least half of the global population do not receive the health services they need. Law is one of the most influential enablers of health and sustainable development – and one of the most cost-effective tools available to governments to protect and promote the health of their people. Law has the power to shape norms and behaviour of individuals, organisations and governments.

When it comes to health, engaging with law is crucial at all stages. The exposure of individuals and communities to risk factors, such as tobacco and alcohol; equitable access to health care; collection and use of health information; and experiences of people affected by cancer and NCDs, are all powerfully influenced by laws and legal frameworks, from domestic regulations to global commitments.

The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development

The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development is one of the global frameworks that recognises and propels the prevention of NCDs – and equitable access to health care for people affected – as critical health and development priorities, with the inclusion of NCD-related goals and indicators.

All United Nations Member States have agreed to the 2030 Agenda and must progress the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) – 17 integrated goals with related indicators to end poverty, protect the planet and ensure that all people enjoy peace and prosperity by 2030.

There are a number of SDG indicators and targets that relate directly to the prevention of NCDs, like 3.a to strengthen implementation of the World Health Organization Framework Convention on Tobacco Control; and others that relate to equitable access to health care, such as 3.8 to achieve universal health coverage for all.

Health and development are intrinsically linked. Advancing law to prevent cancer and other NCDs, and protect those affected, is essential to achieve the fundamental right to health and ensure countries meet their global commitments – so no one is left behind.