Medical Diplomacy: World Cancer Day 2021

Medical Diplomacy: World Cancer Day 2021

International Perspectives

Feb 03, 2021

By Ghassan K. Abou-Alfa, MD

International conflicts rooted in multiple, tangled perspectives of identity, ideology, and history are, and remain, a major blockade to world peace. Governments even blame the rise of diseases such as COVID-19 on some convenient “enemy.” However, physicians acting as change-agents can make cancer illness an ally for peace.

The universal quest for health upon which every physician took an oath and has embedded within their humanistic mentality could supersede all geopolitical troubles.

Physicians from conflicting countries should work together on cancer in a spirit of what is best for their people and all humanity. The several germline alterations-driven inherited malignancies offer an incredible opportunity to study their genetics, implacability, and prevalence, and to connect people. Similar efforts could explore cancer-related environmental and other genetic risk factors of varied populations and regions.

Under the auspices of ASCO, Memorial Sloan Kettering and other leading cancer centers could provide their expertise and facilities and help build relationships, communication channels, and means of sharing clinical experience, tissue samples and data, and research infrastructure. If this quest can be focused and popularized, the world’s leadership would respond and react to a political and public relations effort that informs them on the effort and garners popular support.

Memorial Sloan Kettering and other leading cancer centers would eventually host joint research, small group meetings, international conferences, and research projects on cancer among all parties embedded in conflict.

Robust peace-building-through-health initiatives already exist. However, no such efforts that focus on cancer as a universal grassroots theme have been established yet. An instructive pilot of a joint Middle East conference addressing BRCA-related malignancies is envisoned for 2022 and would help provide credibility and guidance for starting and scaling up. More details to follow!

Dr. Abou-Alfa is a member of ASCO’s International Affairs Committee and a medical oncologist at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center in New York. Disclosure.

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