Bridging the Palliative Care Gap in Ethiopia: Tikur Anbessa Specialized Hospital Selected as Newest International Cancer Corps Site

Feb 02, 2024

On this World Cancer Day, ASCO is excited to announce its newest International Cancer Corps (ICC) site, Tikur Anbessa Specialized Hospital (TASH, also known as Black Lion Hospital) in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. We are thrilled to be working alongside the health care providers at TASH to help bridge the care gap for patients with cancer in Ethiopia and East Africa.

“Developing new strategies to address gaps in cancer treatment and palliative care is an important step in improving the quality of care for all patients with cancer,” said ASCO chief medical officer and executive vice president Julie R. Gralow, MD, FACP, FASCO. “I am particularly excited about plans for the initial collaborative focus on education and training in palliative care, which will directly impact the lives of [patients with later-stage cancers] that make up the majority of TASH’s patient population.”

One of the first objectives of this collaboration is to provide TASH staff with education and training in palliative care through a virtual platform and in-person visits and training by ASCO volunteers, starting this summer. TASH is Ethiopia’s largest general, public hospital and an important teaching hospital in the region. With a hospital staff of over 1,500—more than 50 of whom are involved in cancer care—TASH personnel see approximately 8,000 new patients with cancer each year, with the most common cancer types being breast, cervical, colorectal, esophageal, non-Hodgkin lymphoma, and prostate. Its oncology department hosts one of the few multidisciplinary teams equipped to provide comprehensive cancer care in the country, as well as an oncology training program. 

TASH’s oncology department serves as a hub for the five other regional cancer centers in Ethiopia. It operates a population-based cancer registry that generates longitudinal data. The department also has a longstanding focus on palliative care, working closely with other departments, such as family medicine and pharmacy, and other supporting organizations. Palliative care is an important aspect of cancer care in Ethiopia since most patients with cancer are diagnosed at an advanced stage. TASH already has established short- and long-term training programs on palliative care and is looking to the ICC program to help establish a palliative care center for training professionals in this field, develop an integrative palliative care curriculum, and coordinate palliative care services nationwide.

The ICC is an ASCO program that focuses on helping to improve the quality of cancer care at medical institutions in low- and middle-income countries (LMICs), on whom the greatest burden of cancer falls. The program facilitates improvement by fostering knowledge-sharing, skills-building, and other resources. ASCO member volunteers provide education, training, and mentorship to clinical staff at the host site in collaboration with the participating medical institution over the course of several years.

“The ICC’s goal is to establish formal relationships with select institutions around the world to meet the learning needs established by ICC institution partners through short-term volunteer visits and other ASCO educational programs,” explained ASCO director of international education Vanessa Eaton.

Education is the ICC’s primary component with a focus on three key areas of oncologic care: multidisciplinary management of common cancers, integration of palliative care into cancer care, and improving quality of care using evidence-based quality measures.

“We work with each of our ICC partners to match our programs to their educational needs," Ms. Eaton said. "Once the objectives are clear, we pair volunteers to provide the required expertise and coordinate activities such as courses, virtual trainings, and in-person visits.”

The ASCO team is excited to be working with the staff at TASH to establish the curriculum for the palliative care courses and support the efforts by TASH staff to improve care for patients with cancer in Ethiopia and beyond.

"This collaboration holds great significance for Addis Ababa University and TASH, as it will provide an opportunity to partner with the expertise of ASCO and its volunteers,” said Edom Seife Woldetsadik, MD, clinical oncologist and assistant professor at TASH. “This ultimately will enhance cancer education, research, and patient care in Ethiopia through global oncology efforts.”

ASCO’s Sub-Saharan Africa Regional Council (SSA RC), established in 2022, was instrumental in selecting TASH as ASCO’s ICC site for the region, and they remain committed to engaging with TASH for years to come. Improving the quality of care for patients in Sub-Saharan Africa is one of the council’s goals, and establishing TASH as an ICC site is one means of achieving it.

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