By ASCO International Affairs Committee Chair Clarissa Mathias, MD
Each year, in a normal year, the 20 members of ASCO’s International Affairs Committee (IAC) travel from all corners of the globe to Alexandria, VA, to devote an intensive 2 days to advancing ASCO’s global mission. Of course, this year the COVID-19 pandemic brought us to a new reality, keeping us from meeting in person. And yet over 2 days on October 8-9, the IAC was fortunate to be able to meet remotely and engage in productive discussions on a wide range of topics. As the chair of the committee, it was my honor and privilege to welcome the committee members, to see our friends and colleagues, and to benefit from their perspectives.
Though I cannot fully capture the breadth and enthusiasm of our discussions together, I’d like to share some highlights. ASCO CEO Dr. Clifford A. Hudis set the tone by emphasizing the IAC’s critical role in providing vision and guidance in support of ASCO’s long-term goal for global impact. Following presentations by Dr. Tony Mok, the IAC liaison to the ASCO Board of Directors, and by Mr. Doug Pyle, ASCO’s vice president of International Affairs, the committee held a robust discussion on ASCO’s response to the pandemic to date and on critical emerging issues, such as managing the anticipated large caseload of deferred patient care and treating the larger tumors and advanced disease we are likely to see due to delayed diagnosis, and patient-centric practices if the pandemic continues and how to promote diagnostic evaluation, pursuing medical care in the pandemic context. These are issues that have global relevance, and to which we can all contribute.
Despite the pandemic, ASCO programs and impact continue apace. Ms. Vanessa Eaton, director of International Education, gave us an overview of the new International e-Courses program, which builds on the content delivered in ASCO’s traditional in-person international courses but through virtual/online platforms and integrated group work and mentoring. Dr. Jamie H. Von Roenn, ASCO’s vice president of Education, Science, and Professional Development, provided an update on plans for the ASCO Breakthrough meeting to be held in August 2021 in Yokohama, Japan, co-hosted with JSCO and JSMO. ASCO is working to develop a program that covers oncology practice, scientific discovery, and technologic innovation. Lastly, Dr. Stephen S. Grubbs, ASCO’s vice president of Clinical Affairs, shared with the committee a planned evolution of the QOPI Certification program towards a new model designed around patient needs, aiming to improve access to care, increase care coordination, and enhance overall quality, while simultaneously reducing costs.
The IAC also had the honor of hosting 2020-2021 ASCO president Dr. Lori J. Pierce, who presented the theme of her presidential year: “Equity: Every Patient, Every Day, Everywhere.” She pointed out that lack of equity is everywhere, and while this situation preceded the pandemic and recent civil unrest in the U.S., current circumstances reinforce the impact of inequities and the urgency of addressing these issues. She reviewed ASCO’s ongoing initiatives and planned new initiatives in support of equity in access to cancer care. She concluded with an overview of ASCO’s statement on cancer disparities and health equity, which espouses principles that the global oncology community shares.
Members of the International Affairs Committee meet virtually to advance ASCO programs and initiatives around the world.
In this and all areas, the IAC is focused on the future—a better future—and the next generation of oncologists are the critical building blocks of that future. In our meeting, the committee had an energetic discussion about programs for young oncologists, how to better meet their particular needs, how to engage them more in the activities of ASCO, and how to make them more aware of various opportunities ASCO and Conquer Cancer provide to young oncologists. I encourage you to visit the ASCO website or contact the International Affairs staff at firstname.lastname@example.org to learn more about these opportunities.
Lastly, as an oncologist from Brazil, I was particularly excited by a discussion to launch a Latin American Regional Council, which will advise ASCO on needs and challenges for members in the region, among other duties. The council will be similar to the Asia Pacific Regional Council, which ASCO launched in 2019 and has been quite active and effective. Look for future announcements from ASCO about its Regional Councils.
While we very much missed our face-to-face meeting, sitting around the table and having vivid discussions, our objectives were reached, and the future looks bright. ASCO’s International Affairs Committee is committed to the development of solid and long-lasting training, educational, and quality-driven opportunities for our members and we do count on your volunteering time and inspiration. Please engage in our programs and let’s continue to improve oncology care across the world.
Dr. Mathias is a medical oncologist at NOB/Oncoclinicas in Brazil, chair of the ASCO International Affairs Committee, president of the Brazilian Society of Clinical Oncology (SBOC), and IASLC Board Member. Disclosure.