PURPOSE: To propose a roadmap and explore the cost implications of establishing a teleradiotherapy network to provide comprehensive cancer care and capacity building in countries without access to radiation therapy.
METHODS AND MATERIALS: Ten low-income sub-Saharan countries with no current radiation therapy facilities were evaluated. A basic/secondary radiation therapy center (SRTC) with 2 teletherapy, 1 brachytherapy, 1 simulator, and a treatment planning facility was envisaged at a cost of 5 million US dollars (USD 5M). This could be networked with 1 to 4 primary radiation therapy centers (PRTC) with 1 teletherapy unit, each costing USD 2M. The numbers of PRTCs and SRTCs for each country were computed on the basis of cancer incidence, assuming that a PRTC and SRTC could respectively treat 450 and 900 patients annually.
RESULTS: An estimated 71,215 patients in these countries will need radiation therapy in 2020. Stepwise establishment of a network with 99 PRTCs and 28 SRTCs would result in 155 teletherapy units and 96% access to radiation therapy. A total of 310 radiation oncologists, 155 medical physicists, and 465 radiation therapy technologists would be needed. Capacity building could be undertaken through telementoring by networking to various international institutions and professional societies. Total infrastructure costs would be approximately USD 860.88M, only 0.94% of the average annual gross domestic product of these 10 countries. A total of 1.04 million patients could receive radiation therapy during the 15-year lifespan of a teletherapy unit for an investment of USD 826.69 per patient. For the entire population of 218.32 million, this equates to USD 4.11 per inhabitant.
CONCLUSION: A teleradiotherapy network could be a cost-contained innovative health care strategy to provide effective comprehensive cancer care through resource sharing and capacity building. The network could also be expanded to include other allied specialties. The proposal calls for active coordination between all national and international organizations backed up by strong geopolitical commitment and action from all stakeholders.