By PAUL IBANDA
The American Cancer Society (ACS), Novartis and the American Society for Clinical Pathology (ASCP) have promised to improve access to cancer treatment in Uganda, Tanzania and Ethiopia and other Sub-Saharan African countries.
ACS will support training of healthcare professionals to ensure quality processes in the transportation of biopsy samples and in the administration of chemotherapy, while Novartis will provide funding to support the technical work. The initiative will serve as a pilot for the future roll-out of similar activities to other countries, according to a joint statement by the institutions.
ASCP will build healthcare capacity for immuno-histo-chemistry (IHC) analysis in two hospital laboratories in Ethiopia and Tanzania.
“Immunohistochemistry is required for oncologists to treat many cancers,” This partnership will allow us to provide high quality, rapid and accurate screening and diagnosis, taking in-country cancer care to the next level,” ASCP chief executive officer, Blair Holladay, said.
“The American Cancer Society is pleased to be a part of this initiative to make high-quality cancer treatment available to people with cancer in Ethiopia and Tanzania. We’ll be addressing some of the most pressing challenges patients face in getting access to high-quality cancer treatment,” said Sally Cowal, Senior Vice President for Global Cancer Control at ACS.
Cancer is on the rise in Sub-Saharan Africa. Approximately 650,000 people in Africa develop cancer annually and about 510,000 cancer deaths occur annually due to limited treatment. More than one third of cancer deaths in Africa are from cancers that are easily preventable and/or treatable, if detected early.
“A medicine is only as good as the system that delivers it,” noted Dr. Harald Nusser, the head of Novartis Social Business. “Through our catalytic funding, we target projects that have an impact on healthcare providers and support patients through their journey. We hope this collaboration will provide earlier and more effective diagnosis to cancer patients, improving the likelihood for better health outcomes.”
Through this initiative, the partners are being connected to national health priorities, strengthening the whole continuum of care for cancer patients, from training for better diagnosis and care and improved access to treatment, through to advocacy for national cancer treatment guidelines.
The statement said as the use of chemotherapy increases, so does the risk of occupational exposure. Several African health ministries have requested assistance from ACS with improving the safety of chemotherapy management as many African hospitals face challenges not seen in other regions.
It noted that hot work environments make it challenging for staff to work for long periods in gowns, gloves, and masks. Large cancer centers that are spread over several buildings may require staff to carry supplies over long distances, often outdoors in hot temperatures which can compromise samples. Also, the ability to safely dispose of waste is not always possible.
The Uganda Cancer Institute (UCI) is the main comprehensive cancer centre in the country. Uganda plans to develop four additional public cancer treatment centers. UCI plays a leadership role in the region and has been recently designated by the East Africa Community as the centre of excellence for oncology.
The statement said as a large volume hospital and a regional leader, it is essential that UCI establishes a strong foundation of safe and quality chemotherapy delivery.