The cancer community has been making well-earned gains in its fight to reduce the cancer burden worldwide.
We have seen exciting new advances in cancer treatments and precision medicine that include immunotherapy, targeted therapies and liquid biopsies, which involve analysing blood samples for types of tumour material, making it easier as well as leading to an earlier diagnosis. These are particularly promising for older cancer patients, given that a vast majority of them are over 65 and populations are ageing rapidly worldwide.
At the international level, Non-Communicable Diseases (NCDs) and in particular cancer have gained a higher profile in discussions on Universal Health Coverage. For the first time, efforts to achieve the elimination of a cancer are taking shape with the adoption of WHO’s Global Strategy to eliminate cervical cancer. At the national level, we are seeing more countries designing, funding and implementing comprehensive national cancer control plans.
At UICC, we have seen a continuous and steady increase in members, with now over 1,200 member organisations worldwide. We have also gained new, enriching partnerships and cemented longstanding relations. Several new programmes have been launched, including a five-year Breast Cancer Programme and UICC’s suite of Virtual Dialogues initiated to further support the cancer community in the face of new challenges as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.
COVID-19 has blunted this progress, causing widespread disruptions to service delivery. Many patients have concerns about seeing their doctor or going to the hospital for fear of contagion. Lockdowns and other restrictions have often made travel difficult, and even in the event patients are willing to consult, social distancing guidelines have made community outreach more challenging. Cancer support groups have implemented novel approaches including remote support for patients, but this cannot always replace human interaction.
Furthermore, cancer patients are at higher risk of serious implications with respect to coronavirus. This necessitates changes in treatment protocols, the consequences of which are unknown. Hospitals have also had to re-engineer their operations to protect staff, patients and their families.
Prevention and screening programmes have been put on hold in many parts of the world and some treatments, including surgery considered elective, have been suspended or postponed. Services and cancer resources have been diverted, and some countries have experienced shortages of essential medicines.
Finally, the financial impact has been severe. A recent survey with 120 UICC member organisations revealed that 40% have experienced a drop in funding of anywhere from 25% to 75% and 3% will cease operations as a result of the pandemic. The full results of this survey were recently published in The Lancet Oncology.
Clearly, cancer must remain a top priority of the global health agenda and for countries at the national level. Actors in the cancer community will continue to reach out and support each other, sharing practices to better cope with the impact of the pandemic. They require the support of governments, NGOs and individuals to maintain their invaluable, life-saving services and build on the progress it has made in fighting cancer.
UICC will continue to lead in this regard, to ensure that our advocacy messages and those of the cancer community are heard around the world. We will continue to work closely with our membership and further strengthen our collaboration with our strategic network of organisations – NCD Alliance, City Cancer Challenge Foundation, McCabe Centre for Law and Cancer, IARC, IAEA – as well as our partners in the private sector and global health leaders and academia from across the globe.
We will also be coordinating with WHO on the implementation of the Global Strategy to eliminate cervical cancer. We will support countries to ensure they set up robust national cancer control plans. We will work towards improving access to essential medicines and technology for cancer treatment and care.
We have been raising the profile of anti-microbial resistance to see that more effective antibiotics are developed and made available to those who need them – and this will also be a top priority in the coming years. Finally, we will pursue the forceful role we have played in countering the growing challenges that e-cigarettes are causing in the world.
The primary purpose of UICC since its inception in 1933 is to convene the leaders in cancer control – treatment centres, researchers, patient groups, organisations carrying out diagnostics, screening and prevention programmes – to better fight cancer together.
This will remain a core priority for us as we adapt to the pandemic. We have already shifted from our traditional face-to-face meetings, education opportunities and capacity building programmes, setting up virtual fellowships, workshops and webinars. A key focus of these events is to understand and give voice to the concerns of our members, guide them through these unprecedented times, share innovative fundraising and organisational management ideas, and help develop their skills and improve their effectiveness.
We will be resuming our large-scale events next year, in hybrid formats that take into account the changing health and social landscapes, combining on-site activities with virtual elements such as webinars, podcasts and online presentations. The World Cancer Leaders’ Summit will take place in Boston, USA, in October 2021 with the theme “Driving innovation to advance cancer control equitably”. The next World Cancer Congress will be held in 2022 in Geneva, home to UICC and many health and international organisations, including WHO, with whom we entertain close relations.
The first global event uniting the cancer community during COVID-19 will be World Cancer Day on 4th February 2021. Once again, we will be advancing the theme “I am and I will”, a reminder that each person can play a role in reducing the impact of cancer. The pandemic has shown how individuals, organisations and governments unite in a common cause to great effect. This World Cancer Day will also engage people from around the world in a collective effort to make sure that the voice of cancer is heard loud and clear, and to show that together our actions matter.