Cancer experts from Kenya, Uganda, Zambia and Rwanda met in Lusaka to share knowledge and exchange ideas at the Taking a Regional Approach Workshop. The World Bank in collaboration with the National Institutes of Health organized this Cancer Care and Control South-South Knowledge Exchange (CCC SSKE) meeting. The regional workshop was the culmination of CCC SSKE activities that have taken place over the last year during which participants from Botswana, Kenya, Uganda, Rwanda and Zambia shared experiences and approaches for improving cancer care and control in their countries.

The Taking Regional Approach Workshop brought stakeholders together in a face to face meeting to explore opportunities for regional collaboration on: strengthening cancer care & control financing; expanding training to improve the availability of trained personnel; and promoting research to improve evidence-based investments. The meeting also addressed ways to mobilize high-level support and improve CCC efforts to get better traction on cancer in Africa.

Dr. Kennedy Lishimpi who is the Executive Director of Cancer Diseases Hospital in Lusaka welcomed delegates to the meeting, stating that the cancer disease burden is a concern for all African Countries. “I hope we will have meaningful discussions and deliberations in the next 3 days” he said

Miriam Schneidman, Lead Health Specialist, Eastern and Southern Africa at the

The World Bank, Washington DC, reminded participants that important lessons from the HIV/AIDS agenda of the late 1990s can inform the roll out of cancer programs.

“We need to borrow from the AIDS treatment programs which overcame important hurdles and are now providing lifesaving treatment to millions. We can increase survival and improve the quality of life of cancer patients and prevent children from becoming orphans” she stated.

Miriam also reminded participants of key messages from the World Cancer Day 2015, highlighting the need for global health leaders to devote more attention to non-communicable diseases, including cancer care and control, and the importance of addressing inequities.

“The cancer care divide needs to be closed. Most cancer funding (80%) is in high income countries whereas 80% of cancer patients are in low and middle income counties. Governments need to do more to alleviate the financial burden on households. Partners also needs to do more to provide technical assistance and support research”, said Miriam.

Dr. Jackson Orem, Director of the National Cancer Institute in Uganda, emphasized the need for evidence based approaches if a country is to have a good cancer control program.

“There must be a strong evaluation program; good collaboration with external partners; and a comprehensive package of services provided at national Centers of Excellence. This can only be achieved if governments are highly supportive” he said.

Dr. G. Parham, Co-Director of the Cervical Cancer Screening Programme of Zambia noted that “cervical cancer is an African Holocaust.”  “Many women in Africa suffer and die from this preventable and treatable disease” he said.

Karima Saleh, Senior Health Economist at the World Bank said that “for cancer to be part of Universal Health Coverage, we need to start building the evidence base.  There is urgent need for more information on the burden of disease, on priority interventions, and on most cost effective ways of delivering services, bearing in mind value for money.”

“This information will be critical in defining benefit packages, and determining what is affordable.” she added.

Delegates shared the common challenges in all four counties. These include: serious shortages of trained specialists; few facilities that provide care; and underfunding of cancer care and control. It was noted that households bear a substantial burden of overall health care costs, thus leaving cancer patients and their families devastated.

Participants also noted that important strides in cancer care and control are being made.  Zambia has developed a Center of Excellence for Women’s Cancers and is rolling out nationwide the HPV screening program. Rwanda has established the Butero Center of Excellence on Comprehensive Cancer Care, the first cancer facility in a rural area in Africa.  Botswana aims to excel in pediatric cancers.

At the same time, with support of the African Development Bank, additional centers of excellence are being established. Kenya is developing a Center of Excellence in renal medicine. Uganda is developing the East African Oncology Institute that will train health care professionals and personnel on all aspects of cancer care and control. Tanzania is to be the Center of Excellence on cardio vascular diseases.

Delegates agreed that there is urgent need to make a better economic case for investments. Regional collaboration needs to be broadened to address issues of shortages of trained staff; underfunding of services; and limited attention to CCC research. More champions for CCC are needed in our countries!

The delegates were given a tour of the Cancer Diseases Hospital in Lusaka. Dr Anne Ng’anga’, Program Manager of Reproductive Tract Cancers Program, Ministry of Health (Kenya), said that there is a lot that other countries can learn from Zambia’s Cervical Cancer Screening Programme as well as from the Cancer Disease Hospital in Lusaka.

The meeting ended on an optimistic note with participants agreeing to continue sharing and exchanging knowledge and to working together to curb the cancer disease burden in the five countries.