African Access Initiative

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Published: 18 Nov 2022
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Jennifer Dent - BIO Ventures for Global Health, Seattle, USA

Jennifer Dent speaks to ecancer about the African access initiative. The initiative has five core objectives; to deliver medical technologies that are high quality, more affordable, sustainable and demand driven by African oncologists, and to strengthen the healthcare infrastructure.

The initiative also provides appropriate training and education to African oncologists and works towards advancing African research and representation in the international community.

They also work with regional NGOs in Africa that drive patient advocacy.

She then discusses the work they have done so far in improving cancer control in Africa and their plans.

I’m here to talk about BVGH’s African Access Initiative and to talk about access to cancer medicines and technologies in Africa and training healthcare professionals working in the oncology space in Africa.

What is the African Access Initiative?

BVGH developed and launched the African Access Initiative in early 2017 with five core objectives, so to deliver cancer medicines and technologies that are high quality, more affordable and sustainable and demand driven by African oncologists and nations. Also, strengthening healthcare infrastructure, so particularly looking at diagnostic capacity to diagnose cancers accurately and correctly, and across the healthcare professionals treating cancer patients. We also have a significant part of our work focussed on training and the education of African healthcare professionals, again working across subspecialities in oncology and building partnerships with international experts in oncology. Also, advancing research. So we recognise that in Africa, African cancer patients, healthcare professionals have been underrepresented in participating in international oncology research and clinical trials so we’re also strengthening research through our African Consortium for Cancer Clinical Trials. Lastly we’re working with regional NGOs that are driving advocacy and awareness. So we’ve worked with those organisations to develop some patient education and awareness materials.

What has it done so far in improving cancer control in Africa?

When we launched the African Access Initiative we conducted a comprehensive assessment of both the national cancer control plans in the seven countries that we’re working in but also across the cancer hospitals that we’re working with. So through those assessments we identified the priorities of the healthcare professionals, the CEOs of those hospitals, in improving cancer patient outcomes. There was a real focus on knowledge sharing, mentorship, training of healthcare professionals.

So with that information we have engaged international experts across the United States, Canada, Europe, within Africa as well, to design and develop training programmes. With the pandemic hitting us in March of 2020, fortunately we were already working in northern Nigeria on some virtual training programmes. So we’ve expanded our virtual training and digital training programmes to include literally thousands of oncology healthcare professionals across the African continent in training programmes. So we have conducted multiple training programmes in pathology, radiotherapy has been another area that has been prioritised. So we have been working with international experts in radiotherapy, including Rayos Contra Cancer, a group out of the UC Healthcare system, to conduct training. We have a team coming over from Australia to Nigeria to actually conduct training on HDR brachytherapy in person and on the ground and to conduct training this fall on HDR brachytherapy for breast cancer. 

We have also been advancing training on research through a grant that we implemented that was supported by Takeda Pharmaceuticals. We have funded about fifteen oncologists that are asking important questions about their cancer patients, so starting to support the research that African oncology healthcare professionals are proposing and wanting to answer to help improve their treatment and management of cancer patients.

Lastly, and importantly, we’ve also been working both at the ministry of health level in countries but also with individual hospitals and regions, so districts, states, to facilitate access to cancer medicines, again with companies that have US FDA approved cancer medicines to ensure the quality. We have coordinated access now that has delivered more than 10,000 packs of cancer medicines, treated almost 4,000 cancer patients with full courses of treatment regimens which we have helped the hospitals to actually budget for.

What are the future plans?

We just actually conducted our AAI stakeholder meetings in Nigeria, we were also in Senegal recently, to debrief on the programmes that BVGH has run with international experts and to map our plans for 2023. So we’ve heard that training, training, training is an endless need and a priority and so we have fine-tuned some of the training programmes that will build on prior programmes. Also we’ll build on programmes that others are conducting in the countries that we’re working in. We have a number of training programmes scheduled in development for 2023. We also have just established some MOUs between hospitals and international companies to expand access to cancer medicines.

I am also excited to be here because we will be attending the ATOM coalition meeting this afternoon, so excited to collaborate more with other groups that are bringing different sectors together to expand and scale access to medicines. But ATOM also has an interest and a focus on training and capacity building so we’re looking forward to merging and collaborating with UICC on the ATOM coalition and working with other ATOM coalition partners on access training and other areas where there are synergies with our programmes.

Anything to add?

Just to say that this meeting, the World Cancer Congress that is coordinated by UICC, it has just been a fantastic opportunity to hear the voices of our partners in Africa. So many people are here from different countries in Africa that are leading national cancer control programmes, they’re leading oncology hospitals, and it has been a fantastic opportunity to connect with individuals here in Geneva, to also bring partners together across sectors. We’ve heard from the World Bank, from PEPFAR. I think all of the big international pharmaceutical companies that have focuses on oncology are here and represented and they are very much focussed on equity, access and finding solutions for low- and middle-income countries. So I have loved the focus of this meeting, it is really energising and I feel like this meeting will really help to drive more collaboration in the space and help to scale initiatives like our African Access Initiative and drive more partnerships with industry and with academics and, most importantly, with African oncology leaders.