Cancer in Africa: Making Strides, Creating Solutions

May 10, 2017

An Invitation to the 11th Biennial Conference of the African Organization for Research and Training in Cancer (AORTIC), Kigali, Rwanda, November 7 to 10, 2017

By Nazik Hammad, MD, MSc, MEHP, FACP
 AORTIC, VP North America

Cancer is rapidly overtaking communicable diseases such as malaria and HIV as a leading cause of death and disability in Africa

AORTIC (African Organization for Research and Training in Cancer) is the premier pan-African, bilingual, multidisciplinary organization for cancer research and training dedicated to the promotion of cancer control and palliation in Africa. AORTIC strives to unite the African continent in achieving its goal of a cancer-free Africa, and seeks to make a positive impact throughout the region through collaboration with health ministries, educational institutions, patient and community groups, and global cancer organizations. In the last 10 years, the organization has seen an unprecedented increase in its membership and its ranges of activities.

AORTIC holds its major conference every 2 years. In November 2015, AORTIC held its 10th biennial conference, “AORTIC Roadmap to Cancer Control in Africa,” in Marrakech, Morocco. It was attended by a record number of participants (906 in total) and offered excellent opportunities for networking and collaboration. The event showcased 473 abstracts by African and international researchers. Workshops and sessions covered wide areas of research, education and training, cancer prevention/screening/treatment, and advocacy.

As the vice president for North America at AORTIC, I am honored to invite you to the 11th biennial meeting of AORTIC. It will be held in Kigali, Rwanda, and will take place from 7 to 10 November 2017. Titled “Cancer in Africa: Making Strides, Creating Solutions,” the conference is expected to draw more than 900 participants.

The content of the conference reflects our efforts in Africa to meet the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) of reducing premature mortality from non-communicable diseases (NCD) by one-third by 2030 through prevention, treatment, and achieving universal health coverage and access to quality essential health care services. The road map includes supporting research, development, and access to affordable, essential vaccines and drugs for NCD that primarily affect low- and middle-income countries (LMIC), in addition to substantially increasing health financing and the recruitment, development, training, and retention of the health workforce in LMICs, especially in areas with the fewest health resources. In Africa, there are challenges in infrastructure, service delivery, training, and research resources needed for cancer control and treatment.

Despite these challenges, many African countries are in transition and some areas of the continent have experienced significant socioeconomic and demographic changes in the last few years. We are witnessing expansion in medical and biomedical education, increasing focus on NCD, expansion in service delivery and patient awareness, establishment of new cancer centers, and increasing connectivity to the world. Africa, and especially sub-Saharan Africa, where we encounter most of the challenges, is a rich region with a growing and ambitious population; people are living longer and there is a higher younger-to-older population distribution as compared to the rest of the world. Other changes include an emerging middle class, lifestyle changes with increasing mechanization, change in traditional foods and cuisines to more processed energy-dense foods, and increased marketing of tobacco in the continent.

In addressing the above, the 2017 AORTIC conference will cover a wide range of topics, such as national African cancer control plans, cancer registries, and disease-site specific sessions on cervical, breast, and gastrointestinal cancers in Africa. Other sessions will cover prevention and screening for cervical cancer in Africa, quality cancer treatment in low-resource countries, strengthening health systems, and financing health care. Some sessions are devoted to advocacy, nursing in oncology, palliative and supportive care, pathology, radiotherapy, systemic therapy, surgical oncology in Africa, and cancer biology. Sessions covering health professions education in oncology will discuss developing and sustaining nursing and other health professions and physician postgraduate programs in oncology in Africa and strengthening shared global learning. Other sessions and activities will focus on competencies/skills that enable health professionals in LMIC to carry out multiple complex roles in clinical care, stewardship, advocacy, and supportive supervision of community health workers (task shifting), among others. The conference will include round-table discussions of various topics in addition to oral abstract sessions.

The conference will showcase collaboration with other global cancer organisations. We are pleased that ASCO will be conducting a joint symposium with AORTIC on drug access in LMIC. It will take place on November 8 and will feature speakers such as Dr. Tito Fojo and Dr. Yehoda Martei, as well as African oncologists discussing access to cancer medicines in sub-Saharan Africa. The session is expected to highlight lessons learned globally on addressing the challenges of access to cancer medicines, especially in LMIC, in addition to creating strategies going forward to achieve universal access.

The AORTIC biennial conference is not only the major oncology event in Africa, it has also become a major global oncology event that brings together African and international researchers, clinicians, patients, policy makers, public health professionals, and trade representatives in technology, imaging, therapeutics, and pharmaceuticals. As such it provides excellent opportunities for networking and collaboration with the oncology community in Africa and with the global oncology community in general. For those interested in learning about cancer in Africa, the conference will provide an excellent opportunity to keep up to date and make empowered and educated decisions on what is happening in the field of cancer care in Africa.

Kigali, the capital of Rwanda, is a beautiful and safe city. Please visit the conference website to learn more about Kigali and Rwanda, which is now a favoured destination for many of those who would like to visit Africa. The conference website also provides information on registration, travel, and accommodation, as well as links to tours and tourism attractions in Kigali and the rest of Rwanda.

On behalf of AORTIC and the oncology community in Africa, we invite ASCO members and others in the global oncology community to become members in AORTIC and also to join us at the Kigali conference to share and support our journey as we make strides and create solutions for cancer in Africa.

The Kigali Convention Centre, where the AORTIC 2017 conference will take place:

Dr. Hammad is a graduate of the Faculty of Medicine, University of Khartoum, Sudan. She did her internal medicine residency and hematology/oncology fellowship at Wayne State University in Detroit. She has a master’s degree in immunology from the University of Toronto and a master's degree in Health Professions Education from Johns Hopkins University. She is currently at the Division of Medical Oncology, Queen’s University in Kingston, Ontario, where she is the program director of the medical oncology training program. Dr. Hammad is the African Organization for Research and Training in Cancer (AORTIC) vice president for North America and is recently responsible for leading the development of the AORTIC medical oncology curriculum. Dr. Hammad’s academic and research interests include medical education, post-graduate program development and evaluation, and capacity building in low- and middle-income countries. She teaches regularly at the University of Khartoum.

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