Consider a few facts. Diabetes is skyrocketing in the Middle East and North Africa, rising 87% between 1990 and 2012. Cardiovascular disease has emerged as the second leading cause of death in most of Africa. And about 70% of all of the deaths caused by cancer happen in developing countries.

As emerging nations grow and their citizens live longer, they’re facing a new challenge: chronic disease. At my company, we think technology has a big role to play in helping government agencies, health organizations work together to gain insights into data so policies can be developed to tackle this new reality.

Case in point. We’re bringing technology to bear in the fight against cancer, donating Big Data, analytics, and our expertise as part of a partnership with the Union for International Cancer Control.

Together, we’re building a cancer registry for developing nations that eventually will have the world’s largest and most comprehensive clinical data set of cancer patients. Our goal is to improve treatment not just for patients in emerging nations, but for people around the world.

Because knowledge is power. Cancer registries, common in the developed world, pull together crucial data about cases, including information about when and how they are diagnosed, different approaches to treatment, plus risk factors and death rates.

Reliable and comprehensive information about this disease is key to fighting it. For instance, governments and public health organizations rely on the broad picture of the disease, which the data provides to develop effective policies for targeting and preventing cancer. Clinicians and hospitals use the insights culled from it to identify effective treatment options.

Creating cancer registries in developing nations is also crucial for the rest of us. Because much of our knowledge about the disease comes through studying it in aggregate. The problem is that as more cancer cases occur in developing countries that don’t have cancer registries, we have less of an overall understanding of the disease. By improving the volume and quality of the information collected, cancer researchers and academic medical centers can gain valuable insights that expand our understanding of the disease and improve treatments for patients worldwide.

With Big Data and analytics, this new cancer registry can also help make the very latest methods for detecting and treating cancer available quickly and effectively -- not simply to those within the registry but outside as well.

Our collaboration supports the Union For International Cancer Control’s work with the Global Initiative for Cancer Registries in low and middle-income countries. In many countries in these regions, data collection is done piece meal through paper-based systems.

We’re starting in Sub-Saharan Africa. With more than a billion people and cancer cases expected to increase 85% by 2030, the region needs access to the kind of data that will help bridge the gap between diagnoses and treatment.

We’ll expand throughout Africa and then extend the registry to South Asia and Latin America, all of which are sorely under represented with cancer registries. Cancer registries cover under 6% in those regions today. By contrast, all of the U.S. and Canada; 94% of Western Europe and 80% of Australia is covered by a cancer registry, according to leaders of the initiative.

These registries are the foundation of the fight against cancer. Developing countries around the world are taking on the burden of this battle, but we’re all in the war together.



Kyu Rhee, MD, has been IBM Chief Health Officer since 2011. Prior to that, he was Chief Public Health Officer for the U.S. Health and Human Services Administration, and a Director for the National Institutes of Health. He holds degrees from the Keck School of Medicine of the University of Southern California, Harvard University Kennedy School of Government and Yale University. Dr. Rhee has also served as Adjunct Assistant Professor for eight years at the George Washington University School of Public Health.