In order to create awareness of the rising burden of cancer in Africa, a ‘toolkit’ for local cancer advocates was launched at a recent conference entitled ‘Cancer in Africa – Building Transnational Research Collaborations’.
The toolkit was produced by the Africa Oxford Cancer Foundation (AfrOx), together with the African Organisation for Research and Training in Cancer (AORTIC), the European Society for Medical Oncology (ESMO), and the Union for International Cancer Control (UICC).
The objective is to encourage cancer advocates to become vocal at the political level, and to push for improvements in cancer health promotion, early detection, treatment and care in Africa by raising awareness among government leaders, opinion makers, health policymakers and the general public.
‘Many African languages do not even have a word for cancer, and it is commonly perceived to be a disease of the wealthier parts of the world,’ says Professor David Kerr, University of Oxford, an AfrOx trustee and former President of ESMO. ‘This is reflected in the lack of screening programmes, for example. Although a third of all cancer deaths are due to preventable causes such as tobacco, alcohol, obesity, physical inactivity and viral infections, if there are no public education programmes, little can be done in the way of prevention. We hope that the toolkit will provide local advocates with the means to draw the attention of decision-makers to policy level solutions to this disturbing situation, which has such a devastating effect on individuals and families as well as national economies.’
In the face of competing priorities, the chances of improving cancer services in Africa are slim if advocate voices do not unite. Focused pressure from cancer groups are needed to ensure that decision-makers are knowledgeable in evidence-based measures in order to create better policies.
‘First of all, this means ensuring that decision makers are aware of the problem,’ says Dr Adamos Adamou, chair of the ESMO Developing Countries Task Force. ‘It is bad enough already, but by 2020 the World Health Organisation predicts that there will be 16 million new cases of cancer every year, and that 70 percent of these will be in developing countries. The developing world will suffer the heaviest burden, with 8.8 million cases, over 1.1 million of which will be in sub-Saharan Africa. This is a runaway train coming down the track, and we have to do something to stop it before it is too late.’
‘It’s a big problem, but we think that there are grounds for optimism,’ says Professor Folakemi Odedina, the AORTIC North America Vice President. ‘With cohesive and concerted action, cancer in Africa can be tackled and advocacy will play a key role in doing this.’
The first step is for advocates to define the scale of the problem in their country and to identify individuals and organisations who can influence policy. The toolkit provides guidance for those working with decision makers and influential people, development of national cancer plans, working with the media, involving patients in the development of research programmes and collaborations, and fundraising.
The advocacy case studies referred to cover fields such as tobacco control, the availability of palliative care, raising awareness of cancer screening and of childhood cancers, and the importance of nutrition in preventing cancer.
The toolkit will be available on the websites of AfrOx, ESMO, AORTIC and UICC, and sent to ESMO members in Africa and members of AORTIC’s African Cancer Advocates Consortium. At the ESMO 2012 Congress in Vienna, which is attended by over 15 000 oncologists, the toolkit will be promoted and hard copies available for attendees. The AORTIC 2013 International Cancer Conference: ‘Cancer in Africa: Bridging Science and Humanity’ that will be held from 21 to 24 November 2013 in Durban, South Africa provides a great opportunity for wide distribution and bringing advocates together. A master training programme based on the toolkit will be organised by AORTIC and will train 25 advocates to transfer knowledge about cancer advocacy throughout Africa.
‘Africa’s cancer survival rates are often less than half of those of more developed countries, with many people dying undiagnosed. Many countries do not have a single cancer specialist or a dedicated cancer centre for the whole population, for example, only 21 of the 53 African nations have access to radiotherapy. These stark facts bring home the need for urgent action on the policy front and strengthening of the health system services. We have all seen the positive effects of cancer advocacy in Europe and the US, and we hope that the toolkit will empower African advocates to achieve equally impressive results in their countries,’ says Professor Mary Gospodarowicz, UICC
Source: African Organisation for Research and Training in Cancer (AORTIC)