Strengthening capacity for cancer research in conflict settings: key informant insights from the Middle East

10 Dec 2020
Zahi Abdul-Sater, Marilyne Menassa, Nassim El Achi, Rima A Abdul-Khalek, Ghassan Abu-Sittah, Deborah Mukherji

Background: Management of cancer in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region is accompanied by multiple challenges including heterogeneous access to early detection and treatment options and limited implementation of national cancer control plans. Furthermore, protracted armed conflicts across the region have had dramatic effects, including disruption of healthcare systems and the migration of healthcare professionals. Strengthening capacity for cancer research has been identified as a key intervention to correct data poverty, inform policy, manage limited resources and improve health outcomes.

Objective: The main objective of this study is to gain insights into the landscape, barriers and enablers of cancer training, research and care in the MENA region.

Method: We utilised purposive sampling to interview 16 key informants from a diverse academic, medical and research background originating from countries affected by conflicts, such as Lebanon, and from active conflict zones including Iraq and Syria.

Results: The themes that emerged from the interviews focused on the barriers to cancer care, barriers to cancer research and training, strengths and importance of cancer research and training recommendations. The detrimental effect of conflict on cancer provision and research was a cross-cutting sub-theme disrupting cancer care provision and research due to unsafe environments, fragmented facilities, absence of drugs and migration of personnel. When asked about perceived optimal training format for cancer research, most informants recommended a post-graduate, face-to-face training focusing on cancer research methods and concepts.

Conclusion: This study offers a unique insight into the barriers affecting cancer research and capacity-strengthening priorities from oncologists and researchers working in conflict-affected areas of the MENA region. These data will form the base for future capacity-strengthening initiatives addressing specific regional challenges.

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