Malaysia’s Sarawak General Hospital Selected for ASCO’s International Cancer Corps Program, Pilots ASCO Palliative Care E-Course

Oct 26, 2021

By Meagan Foy, ASCO Publishing

Sarawak General Hospital (SGH) has recently been selected as the newest ASCO International Cancer Corps (ICC) site. The ICC is an educational exchange program that engages ASCO member-volunteers to improve the quality of cancer care at medical institutions in low- and middle-income countries. The ICC provides education and training to clinical staff based on the needs of the institution and negotiated educational goals. The curriculum includes multidisciplinary management of common cancers, palliative care, and quality-of-care measurements. There are currently institutions from seven countries taking part in this initiative.

Sarawak General Hospital

Located in the jungles of Borneo in Malaysia, SGH was founded in 1870. This hospital serves the largest state of Malaysia with a catchment area of nearly 3 million people. It is the only government oncology center in the state and is the teaching hospital of the University of Malaysia, Sarawak (UNIMAS). The most common cancer types seen are breast, colon, nasopharyngeal, and lung cancers. These cancers are often diagnosed at a late stage.

Through its involvement with the ICC, SGH aims to improve its hospice and palliative care programs. The hospital currently has eight inpatient beds for patients receiving palliative care. They would like to create an entire palliative care unit with trained interdisciplinary professionals.

Because of a shortage of family caregivers, financial restrictions, lack of trained staff, and travel time/distance, SGH staff is challenged to provide optimal hospice and palliative care to patients located in rural areas. Through their involvement in the ICC, SGH hopes to address these challenges by improving their palliative and hospice services.

ASCO Palliative Care e-Course

To this end, ASCO, SGH, and UNIMAS have teamed up with Frank D. Ferris, MD, FAAHPM, FAACE, executive director of palliative medicine research and education at OhioHealth, to provide the first ASCO Palliative Care e-Course. Designed in collaboration with SGH faculty, members of their oncology care team and affiliated hospice centers are participating in a 12-week palliative care online course. Weekly self-study is followed by a 2-hour virtual session that includes both didactic presentations and small-group breakout discussions facilitated by international and local experts. Through this course participants will discuss state-of-the-art approaches to pain assessment and management dosing principles, symptom management, communication, self-care, and last hours.

“This content will become an integral part of Sarawak’s development of enhanced regional cancer care capacity,” Dr. Ferris said.

Angel Wong, MD (MMMC), director of the palliative care ward at SGH, said, “Striving for safe and state-of-the-art patient care is the core desire of every health care worker which can be made possible through high-quality, evidence-based education. Despite the raging pandemic, we are privileged to have ASCO ICC along with key international speakers journeying with us, walking us through a comprehensively crafted interactive palliative e-programme, and providing an invaluable and pivotal platform.”

Due to COVID-19, in-person trainings have not yet been possible. However, the ASCO Palliative Care e-Course has offered a unique opportunity to kick off informational exchanges between experts to “lay the groundwork,” Dr. Ferris said. Once travel resumes, Dr. Ferris will lead in-person bedside trainings at SGH to build upon the skills taught during the e-course.

Even in the face of a pandemic, “ASCO is leading the way to spread knowledge and improve cancer care, both domestically and internationally,” Dr. Ferris said. “We are already realizing that e-courses allow us to reach many more people than in-person, didactic courses. Coupled with bedside training, we believe the impact of ASCO International education will be even greater.”

The ASCO Palliative Care e-Course will continue to be part of the portfolio of ASCO International education and is available for other organizations around the world.

For more information about the ASCO Palliative Care e-Course or the International Cancer Corps, contact

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