Jan 12, 2021
ASCO’s Asia Pacific Regional Council Finishes Active First Year; Latin American Regional Council Planned
By Katherine H. Crawford, MA, PMP, ASCO Communications
In 2019, ASCO launched an Asia Pacific Regional Council, a group of distinguished oncology leaders from countries in the Asia Pacific region. The council’s purpose is to advise ASCO on the needs of members in the region and facilitate and encourage member involvement in ASCO’s global activities.
“Increasing engagement with our international members is a key piece of our Society’s strategic plan,” said 2020-2021 ASCO president Lori J. Pierce, MD, FASTRO, FASCO. “We look to their rich experiences, insights, and knowledge to further the field of oncology and patient care around the globe. Diversity of thought, including convening members from different cultures, specialties, and practice types, makes our knowledge base stronger. Regional councils are one way we hope to foster this collaboration.”
In its first year, the council assisted with the first ASCO Breakthrough meeting, which was held in in Bangkok, Thailand; informed ASCO regional priorities in membership, education, professional development and quality of care; and started work on adapting ASCO’s well-regarded Leadership Development Program to the Asia Pacific region.
Enhancing Hospice and Palliative Care in Malaysia
One of the council’s most significant activities was to select a medical facility in the Asia Pacific region to collaborate with ASCO under ASCO’s International Cancer Corps (ICC) program. The ICC engages ASCO member volunteers to improve the quality of cancer care at medical institutions in low- and middle-income countries. ICC provides education and training to clinical staff using a standard curriculum adapted to the needs of the participating medical institution. The curriculum includes multidisciplinary management of common cancers, integrating palliative care, and implementing quality of care measurement.
ASCO volunteers who participate in ICC share their medical knowledge and build long-term supportive relationships with clinicians in these countries. Eligible oncologists and other oncology professionals are paired with medical centers whose needs match the specialties of the volunteers. These volunteers spend around 1 to 4 weeks onsite.
The ICC selection process “was very competitive,” said Keunchil Park, MD, PhD, of Sungkyunkwan University School of Medicine, South Korea, and chair of the Asia Pacific Regional Council. “We received 16 applications from prestigious medical centers across the region. It was an amazing response. Following an in-depth pre-screening process, the [council] members conducted online interviews with the finalists.”
The selected hospital, Sarawak General Hospital (SGH) in Malaysia, was founded in 1870. This hospital serves the largest of Malaysia’s 13 states, with a population of 2,810,000, and is the only government oncology center in Sarawak. The most common cancer types presented at SGH are breast cancer, colon cancer, nasopharyngeal cancer, and lung cancer.
SGH’s main goal in applying to be an ICC site was to improve their hospice and palliative care services. The hospital currently has eight inpatient beds for their palliative care patients, but would like to create a palliative care unit with trained interdisciplinary professionals that is able to grow and develop continually.
The Asia Pacific Regional Council will continue to oversee ASCO’s work with SGH, which can serve as a launching pad for additional engagements with medical centers in the region.
Other council activities include:
- Supporting the free ASCO Global Webinar Series: Experiences and Lessons During the COVID-19 Pandemic. Each session is recorded and available to view online on demand.
- Advising on increasing ASCO member engagement through activities such as increasing volunteer opportunities, mentorship of early career oncologists (such as IDEA and the Virtual Mentoring Program), and outreach to training programs in the region.
Up Next: Latin American Regional Council
Drawing on the successes and lessons learned from the Asia Pacific Regional Council, plans are now underway to establish a second Regional Council based in Latin America. Through its Regional Council, ASCO has an opportunity to deepen its engagement with its 2,000 members in the region, help to address the needs and challenges of oncology professionals in Latin America, and inform ASCO from a Latin American perspective. The council is expected to be appointed in early 2021, and will begin its work shortly thereafter.
For more information about ASCO’s international programs and opportunities, visit asco.org/international. For more information about the councils or their initiatives, please email RegionalCouncil@asco.org.
Acknowledgment: Sarah Bachmann and Doug Pyle, ASCO International Affairs, and Meagan Foy, ASCO Publishing, contributed reporting.