Interview with an AFCRN fellow at the National Zambia Cancer Registry

6 August 2015

In an interview with UICC, Ms Catherine Okello, Information Analyst at National Cancer Intelligence Network, shares her 3 month fellowship experience at the National Zambia Cancer Registry facilitated by African Cancer Registry Network (AFCRN) and UICC.

Read the full interview below to learn more about GICR, AFCRN and UICC fellowships' efforts in providing techincal and scientific support to countries in the fight against cancer.

Can you explain to us what the GICR is and AFCRN’s role in it?

The Global Initiative for Cancer Registry Development (GICR) is an initiative which aims at reducing the incidence, mortality and suffering due to cancer in the world’s poorest regions through high-quality data that inform cancer control.

GICR has been designed to build cancer registry skills and capacity in low and middle income countries, developing cancer registries to produce high-quality information on the burden of cancer by improving the quality of local data collected through a population-based registration approach. The initiative includes providing regional training, technical advice and research support to cancer registry staff.

The African Cancer Registry Network (AFCRN) is a network regional hub for cancer registration in Sub-Saharan Africa and the role of a regional hub is in:  providing technical and scientific support to countries; delivering tailored training in population-based cancer registration and use of data; advocating the cause of cancer registration in the region and facilitating setting up associations  and networks of cancer registries; and coordinating international research projects and disseminating findings.

The network has a membership of 25 members (Anglophone, Francophone and Lusophone) and is growing with 3 more countries applying for membership in 2015. Please see for more information.

Click here to learn more about GICR.

You recently completed a 3 month fellowship with the Zambia Cancer Registry. Can you tell us how this came about and why Zambia was selected?

The fellowship opportunity came about following consultancy visits to the Lusaka cancer registry by AFCRN in October 2009 and 2012 in which a number of measures were identified and recommendations made that were necessary to strengthen cancer registry practices, particularly to transition from hospital to a population based cancer registry. The political will and readiness to work with the Union for International Cancer Control (UICC) made the difference in getting action this time.

I was able to spend 3 months with staff at the registry working on the recommendations made by AFCRN. This involved working with the registry staff on using the right methods of collecting new cancer cases in the Lusaka district and the rest of the country. The fellowship was made possible with the support of UICC and the National Cancer Institute, Center for Global Health USA.

Chris Carrigan, Head of the National Cancer Intelligence Network, Public Health England  said: “We are incredibly proud of the work Catherine has done in Africa to help share the skills and learning on cancer registration and analysis that we have all worked so hard to develop in the UK. We see this as a key responsibility for PHE and we will be supporting Catherine’s future involvement on global health with the Union for International Cancer Control.”

How was the Cancer Registry in Zambia for the greater Lusaka district strengthened and what role did you play in it?

The cancer registry in Zambia was strengthened as I was able to help them shape a three year work plan for the transition of the Lusaka district into a population based cancer registry. This involved establishing and setting a structure in place which enables the registry to collect all cancer cases within the Lusaka district to achieve a complete coverage of registrations in the Lusaka district while continuing to receive notification of new cancer cases from the rest of the country.

I worked with the registry staff to:

  • prepare a list of all possible data sources in the Lusaka district, including death registrations and advised staff to prepare a timetable of visits to each data source and we updated the list of all health facilities within the Lusaka district and health facilities in the Provinces throughout Zambia using the latest list from the Ministry of Health
  • prepare a population dataset which was used for analysis and calculation of percentages, age-specific rates and cancer incidence rates in the Zambia Cancer Registry report
  • collect and process electronic data from one of the main data source of the cancer registry – the Cancer Diseases Hospital in Lusaka, and trained staff on how to process electronic data.

This enabled us to work on the analysis and production of the first cancer registry report for Zambia. An achievement for which we can all be proud.

What did you gain from your fellowship experience?

I have a greater understanding of the importance of support and mentorship to build the capacity of cancer registry staff. I learned to adjust and work at a pace that was suitable for staff and the working environment.

It was great to see the sense of empowerment within the cancer registry team in producing reliable and high-quality information, which will soon give a true picture of cancer cases in Zambia by informing policymakers and health planners, and hopefully start to shape their cancer control planning activities.

Zambia Cancer Registry Team.JPG

For information on how you can support GICR or UICC fellowships please contact Dr Julie Torode Director of Advocacy and Programmes

Last update: 
Wednesday 19 July 2017