by Dr D Cristina Stefan - AORTIC President
As the world evolves so does the role of women as leaders and inspirational forces for the greater good. Women play an important role in healthcare. Numerous examples can be given, dating back to early in recorded history. Perhaps one of the most famous is Marie Curie, who in 1903 was the first woman to receive a Nobel Prize in Chemistry (research still involved radioactivity). In 1911 she was distinguished with a second Nobel, both prizes being awarded for her work in the field of radiation. Of note is not only was she the first woman to receive the Nobel Prize, she was the first person to receive it twice and the only person to ever receive it in two different sciences (Physics and Chemistry).
The role of women as a force for positive change in the cancer world has not been sufficiently acknowledged. Women have been making significant contributions to cancer science and care for decades. As part of the health workforce defined by WHO as “all people engaged in actions whose primary intent is to enhance health” (1), women scientists, health professionals, patients, nurses, caregivers and advocates have undeniably played and continue to play, a substantial role in reducing the devastating impact of diseases upon individuals and societies all over the world.
In Africa, women scientists have made and are making significant contributions to science and medicine. To name just a few, they include Dr Wangari Maathai, Kenya’s first female professor and the first African woman to receive a Nobel Peace prize in 2004 for her work in ecology (2) and South African HIV epidemiologist Professor Quarraisha A. Karim, a recipient of several international and national awards for her scientific contributions (3). Further, the future generation of female scientists are also, promisingly, being educated today. In today’s Sub-Saharan Africa, 49% of university graduates are women. In countries like Kenya, 44% of university graduates are women (4) and in South Africa, more than 62% of students at medical schools are female.
Women are leaders in nursing, advocacy for better health care and human rights, survivorship, ethics, health education, oncology, administration and much more. Women are now influencing the African and global cancer agenda and playing major roles in the global health. The leadership of women has translated into a full dedication and inspirational example to so many and continues to set examples for future generations.
Whilst examples of female scientists in Africa are plentiful, gender equity in cancer science in Africa has not been reached, with women still underrepresented as cancer scientists and leaders. Achieving such gender equity will be a win-win for science, society and patients alike. Supporting female cancer researchers for cancer in Africa is necessary on multiple fronts, to empower women, ensure gender equity and maximize each woman’s potential. Further, female representation in cancer research and care in Africa is necessary because this disease is disproportionately affecting women of Africa, where 609,000 women (377,000 deaths) are newly diagnosed with cancer each year, compared to just 447,000 men (317,000 deaths). The death toll from treatable cancers in women is extraordinarily high: 41% of cancer deaths in African women are due to breast and cervical cancer. Female voices are critical to accelerating actions to tackle these avoidable unacceptable deaths. Women’s voices, opinions and perspectives need to be given as much consideration as is given to men’s.
Women, estimated at 49% (1.82 billion) of the world population in 2017 (5), made up nearly 70% (40 million) of the world’s total healthcare workforce (1). Even if they play different roles - from nurses to advocates or doctors - their hard work in most cases is not fully recognized. Some might not have any formal training at all, and though they provide much needed care, are not acknowledged.
To fully take advantage of the talent of women in cancer research and care, we need to promote more women into leadership positions. They could be better at recognizing the potential of other women and better use their talents in the fight against the disease. That means better health for cancer patients, more opportunities for women in the health care industry and even stronger economies.
Gender-equity in science and healthcare is crucial because the world’s population is rapidly growing and, unfortunately, the global health and social welfare workforce is not projected to grow with it. By 2030, millions of people won’t have access to a skilled health care worker, like a doctor, nurse, or midwife. In addition, the burden of providing care is expected to fall especially on the shoulders of women.
With this in mind, AORTIC has recently formed a Special Interest Group (SIG) on Women in Global Oncology with the following mission and objectives as outlined below:
A world where women are leading Global Oncology Initiatives, joining stakeholders and being recognized globally for their contributions in addressing cancer.
To highlight and enhance the contributions of Women in Global Oncology.
1. To promote women’s leadership in oncology by highlighting achievements and contributions of women in cancer research and care.
2. To increase research led by women and inform global oncology practices.
3. To promote the contributions of women clinicians, scientists, researchers and educators working to improve the lives of cancer patients.
1. To inspire women to take up leadership positions in national and global oncology.
2. To promote networking amongst women in oncology leadership positions.
3. To encourage mentorship that links experienced women leaders (mentors) in oncology with women (mentees) seeking to develop their leadership skills in oncology.
4. To represent women’s interests in oncology and be a voice for women affected by cancer.
5. To strengthen emerging women leaders (in oncology) by organizing workshops/conferences where women in oncology leadership positions can share experiences.
6. To institute scholarships, endowments or awards to sponsor young up-coming women leaders in oncology.
We look forward to our first encounter at the AORTIC 2019 International Cancer Conference which will take place 5 – 8 November 2019 in Maputo, Mozambique. The Women in Global Oncology session will be in the form of an early round table expert session and is scheduled for Thursday, 7 November 2019. All are welcome to attend. Registration is now open at www.aorticconference.org.
AORTIC Women in Global Oncology SIG members:
Dr Beatrice Wiafe-Addai
Professor Rose Anorlu
Professor Fatimah Abdulkareem
Dr Akwi Asombang
Dr Doris Browne
Dr Louise K. Makau-Barasa
Dr Valerie McCormack
Dr. Marian Johnson Thompson
AORTIC is dedicated to the facilitation of research and training as well as the provision of relevant and accurate information on the prevention, early diagnosis, treatment, and palliation of cancer, including increasing public awareness of cancer and reducing the stigma associated with it. We strive to unite the African continent in achieving its goal to reduce the cancer burden on the continent and improve outcomes of the cancer patient in Africa through collaboration with health ministries and global cancer organisations.
Addressing the cancer burden and its disproportionate impact on developing countries is an urgent task that calls for increased international partnerships and collaborations. AORTIC has undertaken this task to build capacity for cancer advocacy, research and training in Africa.
The next AORTIC International Cancer conference, “Cancer in Africa: Innovation, Strategies & Implementation” will take place from 5 – 8 November 2018 in Maputo, Mozambique. Registration is now open at: www.aorticconference.org
Further information can be found here:
1. Buchan J, Dhillon IS, Campbell J, editors. Health Employment and Economic Growth: An Evidence Base. Geneva: World Health Organization; 2017. Licence: CC BY-NC-SA 3.0 IGO.
2. Wangari Maathai – Biographical. NobelPrize.org. Nobel Media AB 2019. Fri. 22 Mar 2019. https://www.nobelprize.org/prizes/peace/2004/maathai/biographical/
3. World Health Organization (WHO). Brief Bio- Quarraisha Abdool Karim, PhD. Available at https://www.who.int/hiv/mediacentre/news/Quarisha_Abdool_Karim.pdf
4. Ministry of Health, Kenya. Kenya Health Workforce Report: The Status of Healthcare Professionals in Kenya, 2015.Available at https://www.taskforce.org/wp
5. World Bank. 2017. Population Data. Available at https://data.worldbank.org/indicator/sp.pop.totl.fe.zs