Oct 10, 2017
By Dinesh Pendharkar, MD, PhD
ASCO International Affairs Committee Chair
Every patient with cancer, regardless of where they live, deserves access to high-quality, affordable care and treatments that can prolong or improve their lives. Detailed recently in The New York Times (“As Cancer Tears Through Africa, Drug Makers Draw Up a Battle Plan” [subscription may be required]) was a plan launched by the American Cancer Society (ACS) and Clinton Health Access Initiative (CHAI) that marks an important step forward in improving cancer care in Africa, where access to care is extremely limited in some regions.
A notable feature of the plan is the collaboration with drug makers that have agreed to make critical cancer medicines available at more affordable prices. ASCO has long advocated for solutions to address disparities in health care access and the high cost of cancer care. Starting with establishing the Cost of Care Task Force in 2007, ASCO has worked to raise awareness about the impact of financial burden on patients with cancer, educate its membership about discussing drug costs with patients and the importance of appropriate resource utilization, and develop policy recommendations that will help enable global access to the highest-quality care at the lowest cost. At the same time, ASCO is working with the Union for International Cancer Control to advise on the expansion of the World Health Organization’s Essential Medicines List, which identifies the highest priority drugs needed for cancer treatment and supportive care around the world. The progress being made towards increased access for people living with cancer in Africa and is truly gratifying but we continue to advocate for similar models in other areas of the world.
As part of the initiative announced by ACS, ASCO and the Oncology Nursing Society—which have published guidelines on the safe administration of chemotherapy—are now focusing on the provision of training programs for the providers in Africa. For all of our work in Africa, we collaborate with many of our 400 dedicated members on the African continent. With a range of ASCO programs in Africa we aim to develop the future leaders of oncology in the region, enhance quality of care through physician training, and support innovative research in Africa that can address access-to-care issues in new ways. Your colleagues—ASCO members within and outside of Africa—are the key to helping advance care in meaningful and sustainable ways!
In Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, for example, ASCO volunteers helped colleagues at the Black Lion Hospital start the country’s first residency program in clinical oncology, an important part of the Ethiopian government’s efforts to expand access to cancer care beyond the capital city. More recently, ASCO volunteers worked with Ethiopian colleagues to train several hundred primary care physicians in the country to recognize cancer warning signs and screen for breast and cervical cancer. It takes many efforts and broad resources to truly build a sustainable, improving care system and we are optimistic that the ACS and CHAI initiative will galvanize a major step forward in this regard.
In the end, ASCO is about our members and our volunteers are the critical resource we can deploy to contribute to improved care in Africa and around the world. I urge you to visit ASCO International programs—which connect the global community of cancer care providers through education, mentorship, and knowledge exchange—to learn more about our programs and find opportunities to volunteer. There are many ways that you can get involved personally that will help all of us improve cancer care worldwide.