Celebrating Key Steps in the Global Fight against Cancer

Ambassador Sally G. Cowal

A tsunami of cancer threatens livelihoods across the globe, and the world is largely unprepared for its impact. The disease accounts for one out of every seven deaths worldwide – more than HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria combined. Nearly 60% of the world’s cancer cases occur in low- and middle-income countries (LMICs), and these regions account for about 65% of the world’s cancer deaths.

Reducing these disparities requires comprehensive and complementary approaches, and engaging with partners. The American Cancer Society’s global cancer control team has – through in-country research and collaborative partnerships – developed responsive and sustainable initiatives around cancer prevention, treatment and patient support tailored to the unique needs of these LMICs.

The American Cancer Society is focused on removing barriers to access to care in Africa. In partnership with the Clinton Health Access Initiative, agreements have been signed with Pfizer and Cipla that will reduce the cost of 16 essential chemotherapy products by more than 50% in six countries that comprise 44% of cancer incidence in Africa. In partnership with the National Comprehensive Cancer Network and a coalition of 40 African oncologists, a new set of cancer treatment guidelines is being developed for use in sub-Saharan Africa. These guidelines will provide oncologists and medical professionals with access to additional treatment options and support the development of more effective and efficient treatment programs for patients. These patients have already benefited from the American Cancer Society’s Pain-Free Hospital Initiative, a training program to improve treatment of pain, which has been implemented in 33 national and referral hospitals across Africa. The program resulted in a 56% decrease in patients reporting severe pain.

On the patient support side, the American Cancer Society has provided comprehensive training, technical assistance, and financial support to national referral hospitals and cancer organizations to reduce patients’ extensive barriers to treatment and improve their quality of life during this very challenging process. Collaboration with ministries of health, hospitals and local organizations has resulted in:

  • Research documenting the extent of cancer patients’ psycho-social needs in LMICs
  • The production of culturally appropriate cancer education materials in easy-to-understand language in three countries
  • The introduction of patient-centered care through patient navigation initiatives
  • Improved standards of care and operations at patient hostels where patients and their caregivers stay when they are away from home for extended periods of time seeking treatment

Patients and caregivers have also benefited from permagardening training, which enables hostels and other patient support organizations to produce healthy foods in a sustainable manner and teach patients about proper nutrition while they receive care.

In honor of World Cancer Day, we celebrate steps like these and embrace new collaborative opportunities that have the potential to move the needle on survival rates and improve the quality of life of cancer patients. It will take a universal, coordinated and comprehensive approach to fight this disease, one which will require participation at the highest levels, and the understanding that only with increased access to care and need-based patient support services will we reduce global cancer disparities.

To learn more about the American Cancer Society’s global cancer control efforts, visit cancer.org/global.

Ambassador Sally G. Cowal is senior vice president, global cancer control, American Cancer Society.

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If concerted, long-term investments in research are not made, America will lose an entire generation of young scientists.
Brenda Canine, PhD; McLaughlin Research Institute, Montana