UN agency and pharmaceutical firm launch initiative to combat cancer in Africa

28 April 2010

The United Nations atomic energy agency and the pharmaceutical firm Roche today launched an initiative to help combat a growing cancer epidemic in sub-Saharan Africa.

The project, Education for Cancer in African Regions (EDUCARE), a novel joint effort by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) and Swiss-based Roche, is to be piloted in Ghana, Tanzania, Uganda and Zambia.

It will facilitate exchange of knowledge and skills, both at the healthcare provider and country-wide level. Training will be provided by an online training resource centre, known as the Virtual University for Cancer Control (VUCC), the first such platform for health workers across the continent.

It is linked with the IAEA’s wider initiative to build regional training networks in cancer control and a Virtual University for Cancer Control (VUCCnet) in Africa. The IAEA is working in collaboration with the UN World Health Organization (WHO) and other international partners to develop the VUCCnet across Africa.

“As a leader in oncology, Roche believes that its strengths, expertise and resources can be used to improve the quality of oncology training and education in the poorest countries in the world,” said Maturin Tchoumi, General Manager Roche South Africa. “There is a real lack of basic education in oncology in Africa. By contributing our skills and competencies on the ground, Roche can make a real and sustainable improvement,” he added.

The new public-private partnership reflects a shared concern over the increasing cancer burden in sub-Saharan Africa, a region of the world where cancer rates are growing rapidly.

Cancer now accounts for 12.5 per cent of all deaths worldwide, more than HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria combined. By 2020, there are expected to be 15 million new cases of cancer every year, 70 per cent of which will be in developing countries.

The lack of trained health-care workers in oncology in sub-Saharan Africa has been cited as one of the key barriers to improved healthcare.

In addition to financial support, Roche and the IAEA will work towards utilizing the expertise and skills of Roche employees by facilitating and implementing the education and training initiative.

The partners have committed to a five-year plan, working together to achieve wider participation from health-care workers in the four countries involved in the project. EDUCARE aims to reach over 200 health-care workers in the first year of the programme.

The programme will be governed and managed by an expert steering committee of representatives from Roche, the IAEA and WHO.

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