UCS was founded in 2011 as an umbrella organisation with the vision of “A Cancer Free Uganda.” To attain this broad vision, UCS’s mission is to coordinate civil society organisations for a systematic response towards effective cancer control in Uganda. UCS currently has 38 member organisations operating locally and internationally with a focus on cancer control activities and working towards our vision, and concentrates its programs on collaborative advocacy, awareness creation, capacity building, patient support and research.
In 2016, with support from the American Cancer Society, we operationalised the secretariat of which I am now the Executive Director. Since that time, we have been structuring UCS and putting in place systems necessary for UCS to operate at its full potential and effectively deliver on its mandate, including a coordination framework that guides how the UCS remains inclusive across all of its members, a resource mobilisation strategy and a joint advocacy and communications strategy. It is our goal that, by 2021, we will have successfully advocated for implementation of the following as critical steps toward improving cancer control in Uganda:
Uganda Cancer Institute is the central treatment centre for cancer within the country, serving a population of more than 40 million people. In 2016 alone, 40,000 patients were seen at the institute, which is over and beyond its capacity in terms of financial and human resources, as well as bed capacity. This also implies that a significant number of people are unable to access cancer services due to distance and that even those who make it to the institute fail to receive all the services they need due to overcapacity.
The absence of a national cancer control plan has affected the level of response made towards the cancer epidemic locally, especially in resource allocation during budgeting. Aspects such as access to treatment by the entire population, provision of affordable treatment services, and availing well trained, specialised human resources all require finances, and yet the data and policy to justify this need is still lacking.
Recognising the gaps in data, planning and access to cancer services across the country, UCS has joined UICC’s Treatment for All campaign, which centers on advocating across four pillars:
UICC and UCS have subsequently collaborated to design Uganda’s national Treatment for All advocacy campaign. This campaign and the focus on the four pillars are aligned with and support UCS’s advocacy strategy. With this campaign, we also aim to strengthen our messaging through the reach of the broader UICC network and the link to important global targets and resolutions. To start, we knew we needed a platform to elevate and raise our voices around this common cause.
In February 2018, UCS launched the National Cancer Symposium as a direct response to the call for inclusion of all stakeholders in the urgent response to address cancer and noncommunicable diseases. This is a major step towards national action to achieve Treatment for All and the implementation of commitments agreed in the WHA70 cancer resolution, which we are advocating and should be reflected in a developed and implemented cancer control plan.
We believe that everyone has a role to play in cancer control, but the presence of a cancer control plan will give better guidance and help to facilitate coordinated, evidence-based action for impact.
The Symposium will be a platform for accountability to ensure we achieve equity in access of cancer services for all Ugandans and the region at large - we must take stock as a country. We must ask tough questions such as;
These questions and many more cannot be avoided by us any longer. We must continue to galvanise stakeholder commitment toward cancer control and not forget the voices of patients and survivors. The launch of this symposium has already brought together several stakeholders from different fields, such as government agencies and ministries, academia, civil society, religious bodies, public and private health institutions, patients and survivors, and the media fraternity among others. Building on this momentum, we intend to hold the first National Cancer Symposium in February 2019. With the slogan “Together for greater impact,” we hope to foster equity in cancer services, attain improved patient treatment outcomes, and reduce premature cancer mortality in the long run.