SPARC has benefitted thousands of breast cancer patients since 2015

"The SPARC MBC Challenge constitutes a significant step towards addressing the clear and tragic inequity we see in the diagnosis, management and care of metastatic breast cancer,” says Dr Cary Adams, CEO of UICC. Photo by Adán Jardón, (c) UICC.
2 March 2022

UICC highlights projects of the third and final round of grantees of the SPARC programme that has reached many thousands of metastatic breast cancer patients and health care workers in low-resource settings since 2015.

The Seeding Progress and Resources for the Cancer Community (SPARC) Metastatic Breast Cancer (MBC) Challenge, known as the SPARC MBC Challenge, was a first-of-its-kind initiative when launched by UICC and Pfizer on World Cancer Day, 4 February 2015. 

A significant proportion of women with breast cancer in low- and middle-income countries (LMICs) are diagnosed at a later, metastatic stage, when there are fewer treatment and support options. Through this initiative, UICC and Pfizer aimed to increase the support and services available to people with MBC so that they are not left alone to cope with stigma, abandonment and distress.

The programme has enabled selected organisations to develop new tools, raise awareness among caregivers and policymakers, increase access to supportive care and improve the quality of life for people with MBC, as well as strengthen health systems and policies. 

In the past six years, it has awarded a total of USD 1,565,000 in grants to 51 cancer organisations, support groups and hospital networks operating in 35 countries to address the specific needs of people living with advanced breast cancer. To date, some 2,625 cancer professionals have been trained on palliative care, advocacy for MBC and patient navigation. The initiative has directly reached approximately 23,000 patients and over one million people through awareness campaigns and the provision of resources and information on cancer and health.

New projects were awarded grants in two-year cycles, starting in 2015, 2017 and 2019. These projects encompass a wide variety of ambitions, from improving patient navigation to extending digital health services, providing psychological support, and advocating for the passing of new laws to protect the rights of patients with MBC. 

UICC also developed an interactive map showcasing each of the 51 projects, in order to more widely share the resources and materials developed by the SPARC MBC Challenge with the global cancer community and further improve care for people living with MBC.

“Much of the burden of advanced breast cancer is carried by low- and middle-income countries, who have fewer resources to deal with it. The SPARC MBC Challenge constitutes a significant step towards addressing the clear and tragic inequity we see in the diagnosis, management and care of metastatic breast cancer, a disease that is often misunderstand and complex to manage, from a clinical perspective as well as emotionally for patients and their loved ones. We are particularly grateful to Pfizer for its generous contribution to the SPARC MBC Challenge and unwavering support for improving breast cancer outcomes in general.”
–    Dr Cary Adams, CEO of the Union for International Cancer Control

Spotlight on projects from the 2019 grantees

Among the 11 organisations selected for the third round of grants, the Botswana-Rutgers Partnership for Health, focused its project on developing patient navigation, referral pathways and the training of healthcare workers to reduce the time between diagnosis and treatment. 

A patient-centred navigation system was designed to address the gaps of the referral system in Botswana, as a result of which women with metastatic breast cancer are now more easily and efficiently able to access diagnosis, treatment and psychosocial care. Twelve breast cancer patient navigators have been recruited in 2022 to serve the Greater Gaborone district and there are plans to train more in the near future.

In Nigeria, Medicaid and CancerAware Nigeria - One Kind Act Foundation were two further organisations whose projects received a SPARC grant in 2019 to set up various digital support services (such as a hotline, online conferences and an interactive map to guide individuals to centres specialising in breast health ) that have proved essential to connecting patients and caregivers through COVID-19 and closing the gap in information and support that women with breast cancer often face in lower-resource settings. The Medicaid project is integrated into the government’s cancer control plan and ongoing activities will be funded through the Ministry of Health. 

Cancer Warriors Mexico developed an advocacy campaign to create a Solidarity Council for women with breast cancer and prevent budget cuts to cancer care. To push for effective legislation – the bill is pending approval in the Congress of the Union – a media campaign has promoted patient testimonies to ensure that the voices and the needs of women with cancer are heard.

Whilst the SPARC programme itself is drawing to a close after six years, the work of the grantees and the services and resources developed through these projects will continue to serve breast cancer patients in the years to come, with sustainability having been built into these projects from the outset as a key criterion in their initial selection.  

Lessons learned from supporting MBC patients throughout the pandemic

While COVID-19 certainly caused several projects to incur delays, organisations have shown remarkable resilience and adapted their projects to the circumstances, continuing to serve those affected by MBC.

To facilitate the exchange of learning and experiences across projects and contexts, UICC organised a virtual workshop on the theme “Lessons learnt from supporting MBC patients throughout the pandemic”. Round 3 grantees had the opportunity to present their projects, and share experiences and resources with other grantees, including those from Rounds 1 (2015) and 2 (2017) who were also invited to the workshop. 

27 grantees from 16 countries participated in the event, alongside the partners of the SPARC Challenge and Dr Cardoso, Chair of the SPARC Selection Advisory Group.

The grantees highlighted the role of civil society in providing services that often are lacking in breast cancer care, as well as the importance of integration of activities with the wider health system and leveraging existing services. The digitalisation of cancer services was also discussed as an important solution to the information and support gap faced by MBC patients. 

Finally, the workshop captured the lessons learnt not only from delivering services during the pandemic but more widely on the programme and its impact, and how grantees can increase the reach of their work through the development of partnerships and dissemination activities.  

At Pfizer, our mission is closely aligned with UICC’s and we are dedicated to closing the care gap for people living with cancer through our partnership. Today we honor and congratulate the more than fifty SPARC awardees around the world who are ‘sparking’ change for all people living with metastatic breast cancer, no matter who they are or where they live. We encourage the global breast cancer community to learn more about the SPARC projects and carry forward the ideas and actions that strive to make a difference for those who are counting on us.
– Andy Schmeltz, Global President and General Manager, Pfizer Oncology

Last update: 
Thursday 10 March 2022
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