This year on 4th February, UICC gives voice and says thank you to the nurses, doctors, researchers, volunteers, advocates and other caregivers in oncology from around the world, as well as government agencies, who have worked these past 12 months through the COVID-19 pandemic.
The World Cancer Day theme “I Am and I Will” encapsulates their extraordinary spirit and the strength of the cancer community. Their stories captured throughout the past year are being showcased in testimonies and articles on a dedicated page of the official website. These stories highlight that while the pandemic is threatening the progress being made in the fight against cancer, it has also created the opportunity to address systemic weaknesses in many national health systems.
A survey conducted by UICC with over 100 of its member organisations in 55 countries, including civil society, hospitals, research centres and patient support groups, revealed that their income and organisational activities are under significant pressure, with over three-quarters expecting significant reductions in income and 80% reporting reductions in activities and services.
The testimonies from UICC members further confirm the difficulties for cancer organisations in maintaining life-saving services, not only due to a drop in resources but also because of the necessary measures enacted to contain the spread of the coronavirus and fears of contagion on the part of patients. Reports highlight exacerbated shortages in frontline staff, sometimes redirected to the COVID-19 response; interruptions and delays in prevention programmes, diagnostics and testing, clinical trials and research; difficulties in engaging in community outreach with restrictions on travel and social gathering; and greater barriers to accessing essential medicines in low- and middle-income countries.
“It appears quite certain that disruptions to cancer services in the past year will lead to diagnosis at later stages, which in turn will translate into higher cancer-related mortality. Worse still, the wider economic impact of the pandemic on cancer care in all probability will be felt for many years to come, even in high-income countries – in low- and middle-income countries, the impact is unfathomable. However, it is heartening to see the incredible response of the cancer community to mitigate these consequences both in India and elsewhere. Their stories are inspiring and these organisations need all the support we can provide to keep doing their incredible work.”
– Prof. Anil D’Cruz, President of UICC and Director of Oncology at Apollo Hospitals in India
The testimonies that UICC is showcasing illustrate how organisations and healthcare workers are rallying across the globe to support patients, resume screenings and diagnostics, maintain awareness on the need for prevention and provide a safe environment for treatment. Volunteers have mobilised to deliver medication and even food to patients in need, or ensure transportation to care centres. The private sector is developing innovative technologies to reduce the time spent in care settings while maintaining quality of treatment. Digital technology is allowing doctors and research centres to collaborate and share knowledge at a global level, and accelerating the move towards greater patient-centred care.
“There has been notable progress in cancer care in recent years. In high-income countries, we have seen drops in incidence and mortality rates for certain cancers. In low- and middle-income regions such as Africa, we are seeing a promising increase in awareness about cancer as well as moves towards the implementation of national cancer control plans. Now is not the time to lose ground but, moving forwards, we must not only take advantage of the adaptations and innovations that are emerging as a “silver lining” to COVID-19, we must also take the opportunity to improve health systems as the pandemic passes.”
– Dr Miriam Mutebi, Consultant and Breast Cancer Surgical Oncologist at Aga Khan University Hospital in Kenya and Member of the UICC Board of Directors
Considerable challenges remain in the fight against cancer. The widespread impact of the pandemic will make it harder for countries to achieve certain sustainable development goals, in particular health targets and universal health coverage. It may also slow the implementation of WHO’s ambitious but realistic global strategy to eliminate cervical cancer within a few generations. At the same time, the adoption of this strategy by the international community at the height of the pandemic proves the ability of governments and organisations to come together and breathe life into the promise that future generations of women will not die from a preventable disease.
“COVID-19 has impacted cancer control globally and the response by the cancer community has been extraordinary, heroic even. This year, more than ever, it is appropriate that we celebrate their achievements on World Cancer Day. Let us all aim in 2021 to refocus our collective efforts on the long-term challenges that cancer poses to every country in the world. We must prevent more, diagnose earlier and ensure that all people living with cancer have access to the quality treatment they need.”
– Dr Cary Adams, CEO of UICC
World Cancer Day 2021 is dedicated to the courage and achievements of people living with cancer and their families, as well as the nurses, doctors, researchers, volunteers, advocates and others who care for them and work on their behalf – and calls for everyone in helping to save lives from this disease.