Rebecca: This week’s WHO Executive Board (EB) meeting included an agenda item on cancer control– what were the highlights from a UICC perspective?
Julie: Firstly – it was great to have a cancer resolution on the agenda and we thank Jordan, Malaysia, Honduras, Kuwait and Peru for submitting the letter of request in the summer of 2016. It’s been 12 years since the cancer resolution in 2005, an update was well overdue to push for stronger action on implementation at national level – aligned with NCD commitments and aligned with the emerging SDG goals.
Rebecca: This isn’t the first time that cancer has been addressed by the WHO EB - what in your opinion was different this year, versus past years?
Julie: The massive change for us was the number of comments and tremendous support for National Cancer Control Plans and the cancer resolution from all the countries that made statements. There were repeated comments on the important role this resolution plays in raising the priority of cancer action plans nationally. I welcomed the emphasis on the need to look at universal health coverage approaches to finance cancer services but also the recognition that international support for the world’s poorest should not be forgotten – we know that development assistance and innovative financing mechanisms to address the funding needs of developing countries are going to be critical.
Rebecca: We also saw strong civil society representation during discussions of the cancer resolution, with 11 statements by NGOs including several UICC members that also endorsed UICC’s intervention; this was a new feature was it not?
Julie: Yes the UICC statement was supported by seven professional organisations that are also in official relations with WHO. We worked with SIOP to ensure that childhood cancer also has a share of voice. We hope this underscores the focus we took on the health systems strengthening needs and building capacities for delivery of a core package of cancer services. In addition, IAHPC and WHPCA supported our statement and took time to emphasise the psychosocial and palliative care needs of cancer patients, while other members such as WCRF international and INCTR highlighted cancer risk factors and research needs. This shows the strength of UICC members working together – we were heard by member states.
Rebecca: Yesterday, the Executive Board concluded discussions on the cancer resolution, agreeing that further work would be carried out between now and the May World Health Assembly. What does this mean in practice?
Julie: Yes, the Executive Board members had a number of comments and suggested amendments to the resolution text, which they were asked to share with the WHO Secretariat on Monday. The Secretariat built these amendments into a new draft text, known as a “white paper” on which a smaller “drafting group” of 20 Member States continued to work on Monday night, and yesterday lunchtime. We understand that Member States now agree on the majority of the text (which includes several of the amendments suggested by UICC) but there are still some “red” texts that could not be agreed, predominantly on the issue of access to cancer medicines. As consensus could not be achieved, the WHO will now be tasked with agreeing a mechanism for consultation between now and May. The goal being to have a final resolution for the World Health Assembly to approve in May.