Bridging Inequities to Bring Hope to Patients Worldwide

Bridging Inequities to Bring Hope to Patients Worldwide

Sandra M. Swain, MD, FACP, FASCO

Mar 28, 2013

I am so excited about the 2013 ASCO Annual Meeting, and I hope that you will join us in Chicago—or if you can’t make it, through Virtual Meeting—to bring ideas, inspiration, and treatment options back to your patients.

One of the three pillars of my theme for the Meeting and for my term—“Building Bridges to Conquer Cancer”—is Ensuring Global Health Equity. Confronting health care disparities has been an issue close to my heart for a number of years. I currently work with underserved communities in Washington, DC, and every day I see gaps in connecting proven treatments and preventive measures with underserved populations. These gaps are linked to higher mortality from cancer and more suffering due to later stages of presentation. It is important to remember that these gaps occur in different parts of the United States and not just in low- and middle-income countries. With this in mind, I am excited that under my watch, ASCO’s Health Disparities Advisory Group has been elevated to the Health Disparities Committee. The Committee’s goals include developing programmatic and policy solutions to reduce disparities in cancer care and outcomes, including working with policymakers on Medicaid issues and increasing diversity in the oncology workforce.

As the percentage of our non-U.S.–based membership grows, I have also had the opportunity to work with leaders active in addressing the growing global cancer burden. Technology has made the world a “smaller,” more connected place, but much of that is an illusion, especially for the many low-income countries where patients present with advanced stages of disease and survival statistics remain grim. We have had interviews in this magazine in which members such as Dr. Mateus Kambale Sahani of the Democratic Republic of the Congo report that 99% of patients in his country report with late-stage disease and that “there are no oncologists or specific oncology units in hospitals.” Unfortunately, these conditions are representative of those faced by many other low-income countries. With the World Health Organization projecting a 70% increase in new cancer cases by 2030, we at ASCO knew that we needed to increase our global commitment. I am happy to report that the Society recently launched ASCO International, with the goal of doubling ASCO’s international programs over the next four years.

One of the frustrations I see for many of our members in resource-limited settings is their inability to translate what they hear at the Annual Meeting to their practices at home. Working with members in developing countries to help improve outcomes, ASCO International will be expanding training workshops; working with institutions to expand their oncology capacity; granting International Development and Education Awards and launching Innovation Grants (both sponsored by the Conquer Cancer Foundation); expanding the volunteer International Cancer Corps program; and linking members online in mentor-mentee pairs, to name a few top initiatives.

I am also pleased that we have several important sessions at this year’s Annual Meeting that will address these issues, including (1) Cancer Control Plans: Challenges, Failures, and Success Stories, featuring Co-Chairs David Khayat, MD, PhD, and Gabriel Hortobagyi, MD, FACP, and Speakers Carlos Vallejos Sologuren, MD, FACP, and Peter Boyle, PhD, DSc; and (2) Global Initiatives to Enhance Cancer Care in Areas of Limited Resources: What ASCO Members Are Doing and How You Can Become Involved, featuring Chair Stuart Lichtman, MD, and Speakers Felicia Knaul, PhD; Clement Adebamowo, MD, ScD; Julie Gralow, MD; Aziza Shad, MD; and Nagi El-Saghir, MD, FACP.

Please join us for these sessions (; or visit and to learn how to become involved.


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