Mar 07, 2017
2017 will see a major milestone for the cancer community as Ministers of Health come together to adopt a new resolution on cancer control at the 2017 World Health Assembly (WHA). To help ASCO members better understand the significance of the forthcoming resolution, Mary K. Gospodarowicz, MD, of Princess Margaret Cancer Centre, University Health Network, interviewed Julie Torode, deputy CEO and advocacy and networks director at the Union for International Cancer Control (UICC).
MG: Julie, could you explain what a WHA resolution is?
JT: The WHA is the supreme decision-making body for the World Health Organisation (WHO). The WHA meets in Geneva in May each year, and is attended by delegations from all 194 Member States or countries. Its main function is to determine the policies of the WHO and achieve international consensus for national action; resolutions are the format in which these agreements are passed. The main Executive Board meeting (a subset of 34 members) in January is the point at which the agenda for the forthcoming WHA is agreed upon and resolutions for forwarding to the Health Assembly are adopted.
MG: With the new WHO cancer mortality data showing a rise from 8.2 million in 2012 to 8.8 million annual deaths globally, the urgency for a robust cancer resolution to drive national action could not be timelier. The last cancer resolution was in 2005—Julie, what inspired the 2017 effort?
JT: At the 2016 WHA, UICC organized an official side event, “Making the Right Investments for Cancer Control,” two high-level representatives called for a new cancer resolution that articulates a clear health systems response for cancer, with an emphasis on a framework for strengthening early detection, diagnosis, treatment, and supportive care. We followed this call with a formal letter of request supported by countries from all WHO regions, led by Jordan. We were delighted to see that this resulted in a cancer resolution on the agenda for January 2017.
MG: How does the resolution tie into ongoing efforts?
JT: The WHO draft resolution presented in January aligns with the globally agreed-upon non-communicable disease (NCD) targets and Action Plan and, importantly, the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), including universal health coverage. We really need cancer control to be recognised as a development concern. While the resolution has high-level language only, it does provide additional cancer-specific guidance to Member States across the care continuum. In particular, it reinforces the importance of patient access to diagnosis and safe, effective, and high-quality treatment and care.
MG: UICC and its members have been advocating in this space for a number of years. Do you sense a difference this year?
JT: Yes, during the Board agenda item, 28 Member States spoke in support of the WHO summary report and resolution, underscoring the role of the resolution in prioritising national action. This was a first and an important message for WHO leadership to hear as they transition to a new director general.
UICC shared with Member States proposed amendments to the draft text focusing primarily on the need for more specific language around:
- Scaling up access, with particular emphasis on pathology, diagnostic imaging, surgery, and radiotherapy, as we know national investments here are so critical;
- Integration of cancer services to maternal, child, and adolescent health, HIV services, and primary health care;
- Focusing on the role of development funding and the mobilisation of new resources for a health systems response to cancer; and
- Underscoring the importance of multisectoral partnerships.
Our full statement is available online.
MG: What is the current status of the resolution?
JT: Member States organised a drafting group to discuss and resolve amendments. We are pleased to hear that much of UICC’s input is reflected in a new (not yet public) draft text, distributed as a white paper. The news that 20 Member States were engaged in the drafting group also signals the growing attention that cancer control is receiving. Our understanding is that consensus has been reached for the majority of the text. There remain a few areas of differing perspectives that require further discussion, particularly around access to essential medicines and partnerships. An intercessional consultation will take place in March/April. We are optimistic that a final text will be agreed upon and submitted for approval at the 70th WHA taking place in May 2017.
MG: How can ASCO members help?
JT: UICC would be keen to team up with ASCO members to ensure safe passage of the resolution. Read more about the cancer resolution and reach out to the UICC advocacy team (firstname.lastname@example.org) to join the effort of engaging with your Minister of Health and key national stakeholders.
The big challenge is making sure that the resolution becomes a catalyst for national action and impact on patient outcomes. Here the expertise of ASCO members is in demand to:
- Share their expertise in shaping national public health policies and cancer plans
- Transfer best practice for building a skilled cancer workforce
- Putting the right plans in place to attract young medics and scientists into the field of oncology
MG: Thank you, Julie. We are all engaged in a fight to improve the outcomes in cancer. Many ASCO members work in jurisdictions where access to timely and effective cancer care is severely constrained. It is extremely important for us to join forces and, together, advocate for more effective cancer control globally. I sincerely hope that all my ASCO colleagues will advocate for their organizations to join the UICC in its fight to lower the global burden of cancer. I look forward to the passing of the WHA resolution on cancer this May.