Background: Cancer incidence is increasing worldwide. Over the next 20 years, the growing proportion of cases in low- and middle-income countries (LMICs) will account for an estimated 70% of all cancers diagnosed. The vast majority of cancer patients in LMICs will require chemotherapy, due to the advanced stage of their disease at the time of initial presentation. Unfortunately, the availability of cancer drugs in these environments is sparse, resulting in premature death and years of life lost. In an effort to lay a foundation for women’s cancer control in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), we implemented a programme which combined workforce development, infrastructure creation and cancer drug access. This manuscript reports on our experience with the latter.
Methods: A private sector healthcare facility was selected as the programme implementation site. Workforce capacity was developed through a south–south partnership with an African national cancer centre. Cancer drugs were procured through a global cancer medicine access initiative.
Results: A new chemotherapy infusion unit was successfully established at the Biamba Marie Mutombo Hospital in Kinshasa, DRC. A team of Congolese healthcare providers was trained at the Cancer Disease Hospital in Zambia to safely and effectively administer chemotherapy for breast and cervical cancer. Over 100 breast and cervical cancer patients have been treated with 337 courses of chemotherapy, without any serious adverse events.
Conclusion: Common barriers to cancer drug access and its administration can be eliminated using regional educational resources to build oncologic workforce capacity, private sector healthcare facilities for infrastructure support and pharmaceutical consortiums to procure low-cost cancer medicines. By leveraging a matrix of global, regional and local stakeholders, the prevailing status quo of very limited access to chemotherapy for women’s cancers was creatively disrupted in DRC, Africa’s largest fragile, conflict and violence-affected country.