Advancing Cancer Control Plans in Africa through South-South Cooperation

Experts from Ghana, Kenya, South Africa and Zimbabwe have contributed their expertise and knowledge to the development of Botswana’s first-ever National Cancer Control Programme (NCCP), supporting IAEA efforts to enhance national cancer control planning in Africa and advance  South-South cooperation. Mary Nyangasi, head of Kenya’s National Cancer Control Programme, and Ntokozo Ndlovu, a member of Zimbabwe’s NCCP technical working group, were among those participating in the IAEA expert team guiding the development of Botswana’s NCCP.

The IAEA, as part of its efforts to improve cancer control on the continent, coordinates support provided from countries at a more advanced stage of NCCP development, such as Kenya and Zimbabwe, with the needs of those drafting national plans for the first time.

As part of the technical support provided to Botswana to develop a strong NCCP, as well as to Burundi, Kenya, Zambia and Zimbabwe,  the IAEA, along with the World Health Organization (WHO) and the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), participated in national workshops convened by the respective Ministries of Health to help advance their NCCP development and facilitate access to the best available science, processes and resources to enable robust cancer control planning and implementation.  

“The development of a comprehensive cancer control plan is part of my Ministry’s efforts to guide national cancer response, to set the right environment for wider participation by all stakeholders and to strengthen community and health care systems to effectively respond to cancer,” said Dr Grace Muzila, Permanent Secretary of the Ministry of Health of Botswana.

Through the in-country workshops with a range of national stakeholders—including civil society organizations, academia, patients’ representatives and cancer survivors—crucial inputs were obtained to ensure equitable access to cancer care.

“By engaging with African Ministries of Health through these workshops on cancer prevention, planning and control, the IAEA and WHO are addressing the urgent need to bring in additional partners that will help in the implementation phase,” said by Dr Nathan Bakyaita, WHO Country Representative in Zimbabwe, during the national NCCP workshop held in Harare.

Botswana, Burundi, Kenya, Zambia and Zimbabwe are also participating in the IAEA-WHO-IARC  virtual NCCP Workshop Series, ‘Creating a Blueprint for National Cancer Programmes’. The series is an example of South-South cooperation, relying on the expertise of African cancer care specialists who are providing guidance and demonstrating best practices in national cancer control to their regional counterparts.

The first virtual NCCP workshop, held on 6 and 7 September 2022, was attended by 40 representatives of Health Ministries, universities and hospitals from 30 countries in Africa, who presented best practices and discussed the approaches they are taking to the challenges they face in cancer control planning and governance. The workshops form part of a wider effort to strengthen South-South cooperation through the creation of a network of cancer control professionals in Africa that will support the sharing of experiences, data and lessons, and pave the way for partnerships to implement cancer control activities. Follow-up workshops are planned for December 2022 and March 2023, also virtually and in collaboration with WHO and IARC.

The overall objective of the virtual workshops is to establish a dialogue that goes beyond the framework of NCCP development, fostering longer-lasting mutual support for capacity building and the exchange of knowledge and ideas to advance the sustainable implementation of cancer control activities.

“The national priorities put forward in the NCCP present additional opportunities to strengthen cancer control, as they inform the development of IAEA technical cooperation projects and facilitate the establishment of cooperation agreements between Member States,” said Lisa Stevens, Director of the IAEA Programme of Action for Cancer Therapy (PACT). “A robust and evidence-based NCCP can also provide the foundation for further support through the IAEA’s Rays of Hope initiative, which directly contributes to fulfilling the 2030 Agenda and Sustainable Development Goals.”

Improving lives through coordination

For more than a decade, providing advisory support for the development of NCCPs has been a critical service to Ministries of Health in Africa, delivered by the IAEA within the framework of the WHO-IAEA Joint Programme on Cancer Control launched in 2011. The aim is to assist countries in developing evidence-based, prioritized and country-specific strategic documents to tackle the burden of cancer.

“In the past, diagnostic procedures in Botswana did not follow international guidelines. For example, when I presented to the hospital with symptoms for the first time, the doctor wanted to perform surgery to remove a cyst he believed had formed in my breast,” explained Dr Sandra Mupier Kasay, a cancer survivor in Botswana and health practitioner herself. “I then requested a fine needle aspiration, which confirmed that I had breast cancer instead.”

Dr Kasay’s experience throws into sharp relief the need for comprehensive prevention and screening support, early detection campaigns and health workforce training—all of which are crucial components of an NCCP. “With a robust national cancer control programme in Botswana, we could strengthen our national referral system, especially for patients diagnosed early, to improve timely treatment and patient outcomes,” she said. 

Source: International Atomic Energy Agency