It took almost 24 hours of travel to reach Xiamen, China, site of the 16th Annual Meeting of the Chinese Society of Clinical Oncology (CSCO) and the ancestral home of my mother. As with most of anything in China, the growth of CSCO has been enormous and yet the challenges of caring for such a large population mean that this is only the beginning chapter of oncology in this country. The problems are not unfamiliar to a U.S. oncologist, although the scale of the problem is very different: limited access to care, poor reimbursement of physician work, and unaffordable cost of drugs. If we share the same challenges, could it be that we might be seeking the same solutions?
This year’s CSCO meeting was also the venue for the first meeting of the Federation of Asian Clinical Oncology (FACO). The three founding members of FACO are CSCO, the Japanese Society of Clinical Oncology (JSCO), and the Korean Association of Clinical Oncology. FACO’s mission is to foster cooperative clinical trials and studies in Asia and thereby contribute to a better understanding of global health and cancer. Because of this fortunate turn of events, I was able to meet with the leadership of all three of our sister societies, both individually and collectively over four days.
Yet another group that I sat down with was the Chinese American Hematologists and Oncologists Network (CAHON). The members of this organization are ASCO members, and they meet during the ASCO and ASH Annual Meetings, in effect an organization within the ASCO tent that I had not been aware of until this last Annual Meeting when they approached and educated me about their membership, activities, and goals which are to foster the development of the oncology world in China, mentor and support the careers of Chinese and Chinese-American oncologists, and address health care disparities among Chinese-American cancer patients.
The Presidential theme of Immediate Past ASCO President Sandy Swain was “Building Bridges,” and global health was a major theme of the 2013 Annual Meeting. As President-Elect, I pose the question, how can ASCO build bridges that serve to translate the work we do in the United States to improve cancer care into the realities of medical care in other countries? How can ASCO build bridges that provide better access to care for health care disparity populations in the U.S.?
One bridge could be ASCO members who exist comfortably in both worlds, typically originating from outside the United States but who have received a part of their education here and have elected to continue their careers in the U.S., while maintaining ties to mentors and colleagues in their country of origin. These are ASCO members who understand the cultural and resource factors that need consideration when adapting ASCO programs internationally. How many CAHONs exist within the ASCO community, representing the more than 100 countries around the world that ASCO members hail from?
I would like to hear from ASCO members who are involved in organizations such as CAHON that live within the ASCO tent but who are under the radar screen. The American Society of Clinical Oncology exists in an America where both the oncology professional and the cancer patient are representative of our increasingly diverse population and this fact will transform our Society. We need to understand this and recognize that defining our role in global health will begin here in the United States.