Last month, along with my colleague Mélanie Samson from the Capacity Building team, I had the opportunity to attend the AORTIC (African Organisation for Research and Training in Cancer) conference under the theme, Cancer in Africa: Making Strides, Creating Solutions, in Kigali, Rwanda.
On the hilly road from the airport to the hotel - the famous Hotel des Mille Collines that provided refuge to Rwandans during the 1994 Genocide - I understood why Rwanda is often referred to as the land of a thousand hills. I learned that the country is also called the land of a thousand smiles - and found this to be true in all my encounters that would follow.
The first event, the Africa Cancer Control Leadership Forum, was held the day before the official start of the conference, and was hosted by the World Bank and coordinated by the Center for Global Health at the US National Cancer Institute (NCI/CGH) together with partners from the International Cancer Control Partnership (ICCP). The meeting was a culmination of a four-month long virtual programme – it was an opportunity for the participating country teams from several African nations to share experiences and best practices from their local cancer control planning and implementation.
At the conference itself, I had the privilege to chair the UICC session on “Building capacity in anatomical staging; terminology and Essential TNM”. The session focused on the role of cancer staging in national cancer planning and surveillance, addressing principles and common misconception of cancer staging, and how to better link staging with cancer surveillance through the Essential TNM cancer registry tool which has been designed as a stepping stone to full use of the TNM classification and permitting documentation of stage with minimal datasets. The participants were particularly interested to find out more about the educational activities related to TNM, in order to boost knowledge of the classification and its application in their setting.
I was also delighted to take part in a roundtable discussion on national cancer control programmes along with representatives from Mozambique’s and Kenya’s the Ministries of Health, the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), NCI and the World Health Organization. It was clear from the discussions taking place that national cancer control planning was a hot topic. Although 73% of countries in the region reported having an operational non-communicable disease control plan addressing cancer, a lot more remains to be done.
During the conference Mélanie and I made it our priority to meet with UICC members and partners. Our meetings included discussions around our new advocacy campaign Treatment for All, various capacity building opportunities including fellowships specially dedicated to the African region and World Cancer Day activities.
It was inspiring to meet UICC members working in the region and learn firsthand what they do in their organisations and how UICC can better support them in their endeavours.
We also met with two of the UICC Young Leaders François Uwinkindi from Rwanda and Paul Ebusu from Uganda who a week later travelled to Mexico City to attend the World Cancer Leaders’ Summit and to be part of the official start of the Young Leaders programme. It was amazing to see their enthusiasm and commitment to cancer control.
We also ventured out to visit the Rwanda Palliative Care and Hospice Organisation, a UICC member organisation based in Kigali, where we learned about their procedures for patient management and home-based care initiative. We were warmly welcomed by their Board, as well as Christian Ntizimira, (a former UICC Young Leader) and Eric Kabisa, a UICC fellow – it’s incredible to witness the reach of our UICC family! We discussed opportunities for engagement with UICC, including World Cancer Day and how to reach local communities across the country, finishing a productive day with a photo for Signs for Change social media activity for 4 February next year.
After AORTIC we spent our free weekend to better explore Rwanda and neighbouring Uganda and go on an adventurous gorilla tracking tour. Other UICC members had similar plans and meeting them in the Ugandan rainforest was a happy and somewhat surreal experience. On the way back to Kigali, we visited the Butaro Cancer Centre of Excellence and Butaro Ambulatory Cancer Centre where we were welcomed by Dr Albert Ndayisaba, former UICC SPARC grantee, and Dr Egide Mpanumusingo, Clinical Director. The facilities were very impressive, we visited the pathology lab (which we have featured as a case study on the ICCP portal) and saw firsthand how the cancer centre provides much more than treatment to its cancer patients, including a food support programme, microcredit activities and social support.
AORTIC was a rich and full experience. I returned to the UICC Geneva office convinced that our team here should continue to foster close relationships with our members on the ground, expand our regional reach and capacity building offers as well as engage members nationally through campaigns such as Treatment for All.