Providing care to cancer patients in resource-poor settings often demands complex trade-offs regarding resource allocation. It is estimated that over 60% of all cancer deaths worldwide occur in low- and middle-income countries, where channels to care and appropriate symptom management interventions are overstressed or obsolete. Concepts of distributive justice underlie much of global health policy. As appetites for expanding global palliative care services increase, so do questions of fair and culturally appropriate distribution. The ethical principle of distributive justice underpins questions of resource allocation at a fundamental level. One of the most challenging concepts for health care workers immersing in cross-cultural contexts is the idea that ethics are somewhat malleable; they shape and are shaped by the unique sociopolitical, economic, intracultural, and power dynamics of a particular setting. In this article, we use the case of a young woman diagnosed with terminal cancer in an underserved community in rural Uganda to illustrate the conflicting concepts of fairness, which dictate distribution of scarce resources in low- and middle-income countries. Notions of distributive justice vary across cultural, societal, and even individual norms, with some definitions allowing for discrimination based on merit or need. Resource allocation in the absence of cultural humility or a genuine willingness to understand decision-making priorities in a given culture can contribute to inequity and may have harmful consequences.
Journal of Pain and Symptom Management – Elsevier
Published: Apr 1, 2018
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