We were all supposed to meet face-to-face in beautiful Oman at the 2020 UICC World Cancer Congress hosted by the most professional, generous, and caring hosts – the Oman Cancer Society and the Oman National Oncology Centre. But alas, coronavirus had the last word…and here I am having to “blog” my goodbye…
The past four years have really flown by! They have been intense and enormously rewarding.
It has been both an honour and a privilege to serve you all in the cancer community. As President and President-Elect, I have dedicated much of my time to advocating on your behalf, engaging and meeting as many policymakers, members and partners from across the globe to keep cancer on top of agenda.
With over 50 trips in the last three years, I had the opportunity to meet with heads of states and ministers, leaders of non-governmental organisations and civil society – and I would like to believe that concrete action ultimately resulted from those meetings.
But above all, I met thousands of wonderful people on the ground who are trying to work
day in, day out to alleviate the landscape for cancer patients in extremely challenging circumstances. I was privileged to speak with so many of UICC’s admirable members, exchange with the selfless volunteers at cancer patient support organisations, learn from brave cancer patients and the tireless doctors and nurses who ensure their care. Their stories, their struggles and their successes will always remain with me.
A lot happened during my presidency, I would like to share some key highlights.
I was proud to have been part of the City Cancer Challenge (C/Can) journey that finally saw it established as a standalone foundation. As President-Elect, I travelled far and wide to three pilot cities (Ghana, Paraguay, Columbia) and two challenge cities (Rwanda and Porto Allegre), advocating to political leaders and influencers of cancer care in those countries on the importance of putting their weight behind this initiative. Now C/Can has nine cities signed up to the challenge, reaching 43.9 million people.
In 2018, the World Health Organization (WHO) called for the need to implement Universal Health Coverage (UHC). UICC and the Non-Communicable Diseases (NCD) community worked tirelessly to make sure that cancer treatment and prevention were not left out of the UHC package. I was proud to deliver the keynote speech as an “eminent champion of NCDs” at the third high-level meeting on Non-Communicable Diseases in New York, and represent you all.
In 2019, UICC held a very successful World Cancer Leaders’ Summit (WCLS) in Nur Al-Sultan, Kazakhstan, to discuss UHC and cancer. I sincerely hope that it will be possible to connect again face-to-face for the 2021 WCLS in Boston, hosted by American Society of Clinical Pathology.
In the past two years, UICC has also supported the publications of two important publications: “Cancer control in Africa: paving the way to Universal Health Coverage”, the first of its kind, jointly produced with the African Organisation for Research & Training in Cancer (AORTIC); and the third edition of the Cancer Atlas, which provides a comprehensive overview of the burden of cancer and risk factors, produced together with the American Cancer Society and the International Agency for Research on Cancer. On Tuesday 6th October at UICC’s virtual General Assembly, I will be unveiling the Arabic translation of the Cancer Atlas, produced by our dear member Friends of Cancer Patients in the UAE.
Following the call in May 2018 by Dr Tedros, Director-General of WHO, to eliminate cervical cancer, UICC worked to rally its members and partners in calling for urgent national commitments to approve the 2020-2030 global strategy for the elimination of cervical cancer. The strategy was formally adopted in August 2020. I am privileged to be a Member of the WHO Expert Technical Group for the Elimination of Cervical Cancer. In addition, WHO also announced the childhood cancer initiative, which aims to increase childhood cancer survival rates to at least 60% by 2030, saving an additional 1 million children.
I was also fortunate to witness the incredible enthusiasm around World Cancer Day. In 2019, I was privileged to launch World Cancer Day activities with the First Lady of Ghana. The event received over one half a million social media mentions, and nearly 1,000 activities joined the “I Am and I Will” campaign from over 100 countries. Countless monuments were also lit up with orange and blue all over the world. In 2020, the campaign did even better, with over 700,000 media mentions, nearly 15,000 press mentions in 150 countries and some 85 landmarks were illuminated in 52 cities across the world on 4th February.
February 2020, however, also marked UICC’s last face-to-face board meeting in beautiful Oman. Ironically, as we discussed UICC taking on more challenges, the coronavirus was starting to spread, presenting us with the ultimate, though certainly unwanted challenge!
Health providers, patients and carers alike have undoubtedly suffered the worst of the double burden they faced with cancer and COVID-19. At the same time, we witnessed the incredible resilience of our cancer community, which has innovated and adapted to address the real challenges people face on the ground, day in, day out. The stories that have been shared are nothing short of heroic, with both personal and collective herculean endeavours being made to ensure that cancer diagnosis and treatment are not run over by the destructiveness of COVID-19.
At UICC, we swiftly adapted all our programmes and trainings, and went virtual to support our membership and unite us all during this challenging time. UICC’s Virtual Dialogues provided members with enhanced opportunities to connect, exchange knowledge and share solutions on their respective and common challenges during COVID-19. They also included expert advice on how to navigate and take advantage of the digital transformation imposed by the pandemic in the areas of leadership, fundraising and service delivery and other topics.
The above achievements are not mine nor UICC’s alone. These are the achievements of every individual working in the cancer space, of members and partners who translate global advocacy into action on the ground in their own countries. When you, as a member organisation, fight in your country for the right of cancer patients to have coverage for cancer, you are moving the needle forward; when you, as an individual, fight for the right of girls and women to get an HPV vaccination against cervical cancer, you are moving the needle forward.
UICC’s achievements represent the sum of our parts, members and partners alike. Now, more than ever, we must not let the coronavirus steal from us from the hard-earned gains that the cancer community has made. Whilst social distancing may have worked to slow the spread of COVID-19, social cohesion is what we need more than ever now for the cancer community.
I would like to end by thanking each and every Board Member who supported me during my presidency. Your counsel and advice were so valuable to me. And best wishes to Anil D’Cruz who will be the new President of UICC.
Finally, special thanks to Cary and the wonderful UICC team. We could not have achieved our goals without your hard work, commitment and dedication to cancer control.