Conference Report

The African Organisation for Research and Training in Cancer and its conferences: a historical perspective and highlights of the Ninth International Conference, Durban, South Africa, 21–24 November 2013

3 Feb 2014
Christopher KO Williams, D Cristina Stefan, Fiona Rawlinson, Kenneth Simbiri, Sam M Mbulaiteye

The objectives of the African Organisation for Research and Training in Cancer (AORTIC), both at its inception in the early 1980s, and at its reactivation in 2000 following a decade of inactivity, included bringing the products of decades of advances in cancer research to African populations through international collaboration. The historical perspective provided in this report illustrates progress in achieving these objectives through successive continent-wide activities over a period of 30 years, culminating in the organisation’s most recent conference held in Durban, South Africa, 21–24 November 2013. The constant growth in the number of attendants and increasing diversity of the nations of their origin are consistent with advances, whereby the number of participants and the nations of their origin have grown from 24 in 1983 to almost 1000 in 2013, and from 14 to 70, respectively. While earlier AORTIC conferences used to assume the atmosphere of ‘jamborees’, more recent ones have morphed to problem-solving events, with the concerted collaboration of international organisations, including the World Health Organisation (WHO), International Union Against Cancer (UICC), the Africa Union (AU), the US National Cancer Institute (NCI), the International Psycho-Oncology Society (IPOS), and others. The topics of discussion at the Ninth AORTIC International Conference on Cancer in Africa in Durban were those of paramount importance for low- and middle-income countries: childhood cancers, cancers of the cervix, breast, and prostate, as well as cancer care challenges resulting from ignorance, neglect, and economic deprivation. The role of environmental factors that underlie Burkitt’s lymphoma was the subject of the Epidemiology of Burkitt Lymphoma in East-African Children and Minors Workshop, highlighting the NCI research programme in East Africa, while the Workshop on Cost Effectiveness of Treatment of Cancer in Africa surmised that treating childhood cancers is affordable in Africa in spite of widespread economic deprivation. WHO representatives emphasised the organisation’s commitment to the global control of non-communicable diseases (NCDs), including cancer, and promoted the new initiatives for the control of cervical cancer, one of the commonest and deadliest cancers in adult Africans. AU representative proffered the principles of ‘demographic dividends’ for Africa to be able to tackle its burden of NCDs. UICC, represented by its President, provided guidelines for cancer diagnosis and staging, and advised on its effort to improve global access to radiotherapy, especially in Africa, while IPOS led the discussions on mitigating the suffering that is associated with the late presentation of cancer in the region. Oral and poster presentations from various parts of the continent indicate the growth of basic science of cancer in the region, with studies revealing regional diversity in the frequencies of the triple-negative breast cancer. They also suggest a need for genome-wide association studies as well as the evaluation of single nucleotide polymorphisms that may be responsible for variable susceptibility in breast and prostate cancer in people of African descent. Finally, the AORTIC leadership announced its plan for the advancement of cancer control by intensifying cancer advocacy at all levels of governance in the region.

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