Cancer institute charts course

Cancer institute charts courseGetting your five fruits and vegetables a day is an important step in reducing your cancer risk, Sewram says.

Stellenbosch University recently launched the African Cancer Institute (ACI) to build African countries’ abilities to prevent, diagnose and treat cancer. Health-e caught up with ACI’s director, Vikash Sewram, to find out how the institute plans to achieve this bold objective.

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“Cancer is the sixth largest cause of death in this country, which means that we are doing something wrong,” says Sewram, who was previously a director at both the Oncology Research Unit of the South African Medical Research Council and the Cancer Research Initiative of South Africa.

Where does South Africa go wrong? Sewram says he believes the country does not focus its cancer research on areas where it could have the greatest impact. He adds that given the resource constraints in the country, cancer efforts are not coordinated in order to maximise the human capital available.

“The ACI wants to highlight the pertinent questions relating to cancer in the country, and figure out how best to address them in a manner in which we harness the strengths of all our partners,” Sewram said.

He maintains that the key to finding these answers is research — and not just the kind that takes place in laboratories, but also clinical, epidemiological and health systems research as well. This research should tell us more about access to cancer screenings, the level of infrastructure as well as awareness and treatment availability.

“Research is critical to this process because it will inform policy,” he said. “There must be concordance based on what is on the ground and what is the infrastructure available.”

The ACI is the vehicle to achieve this, Sewram tells Health-e.

“Research at the ACI will cut across the cancer continuum – whether it is prevention, screening, early detection, diagnosis, treatment or palliative care,” he says. “In the process, we will be developing a new set of clinicians, health care providers, researchers, nurses and health advocates.”

But ACI will not do it alone. The organisation has already signed a memorandum of understanding with the University of Texas’ MD Anderson Cancer Centre that will facilitate collaboration in various academic programmes and research projects.

“We are very proud to be the first institute in Africa to partner with the prestigious cancer centre,” he adds. “The centre has a lot of expertise and we can certainly learn from them and take cancer care in Africa to another level.”

“My vision for the ACI is to be a holistic, multi-disciplinary and highly focused centre conducting research relevant to South Africa and the African continent. But we can’t do all of this on our own—non-governmental organisations, health advocates, research scholars and clinical teams all have to come together to move on this endeavour,” Sewram concluded. – Health-e News Service.