A systematic review of radiotherapy capacity in low- and middle-income countries

Front Oncol. 2015 Jan 22;4:380. doi: 10.3389/fonc.2014.00380. eCollection 2014.


Objectives: The cancer burden in low- and middle-income countries (LMIC) is substantial. The purpose of this study was to identify and describe country and region-specific patterns of radiotherapy (RT) facilities in LMIC.

Methods: A systematic review of the literature was undertaken. A search strategy was developed to include articles on radiation capacity in LMIC from the following databases: PubMed, Embase, CINAHL Plus, Global Health, and the Latin American and Caribbean System on Health Sciences Information. Searches included all literature up to April 2013.

Results: A total of 49 articles were included in the review. Studies reviewed were divided into one of four regions: Africa, Asia, Eastern Europe, and South America. The African continent has the least amount of resources for RT. Furthermore, a wide disparity exists, as 60% of all machines on the continent are concentrated in Egypt and South Africa while 29 countries in Africa are still lacking any RT resource. A significant heterogeneity also exists across Southeast Asia despite a threefold increase in megavoltage teletherapy machines from 1976 to 1999, which corresponds with a rise in economic status. In LMIC of the Americas, only Uruguay met the International Atomic Energy Agency recommendations of 4 MV/million population, whereas Bolivia and Venezuela had the most radiation oncologists (>1 per 1000 new cancer cases). The main concern with the review of RT resources in Eastern Europe was the lack of data.

Conclusion: There is a dearth of publications on RT therapy infrastructure in LMIC. However, based on limited published data, availability of RT resources reflects the countries' economic status. The challenges to delivering radiation in the discussed regions are multidimensional and include lack of physical resources, lack of human personnel, and lack of data. Furthermore, access to existing RT and affordability of care remains a large problem.

Keywords: global health; low- and middle-income countries; radiation capacity; radiation oncology access; systematic review.