ASCO and its Sub-Saharan African outreach programme

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Published: 10 Jan 2024
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Dr Julie Gralow - Chief Medical Officer, American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO), USA

Dr Julie Gralow speaks to ecancer about ASCO and its outreach programme in Sub-Saharan Africa.

She discussed the topics covered by the Sub-Saharan African Regional Council in their discussions with ASCO on ways to improve cancer care and increase capacity in the region.

Additionally, she talks about what ASCO is offering for developing partnerships to improve cancer care in low and middle-income countries.

ASCO and its Sub-Saharan African outreach programme

Dr Julie Gralow - Chief Medical Officer, American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO), USA

What work has ASCO been doing this year?

So, ASCO, even though we have the A, ‘American’, in our name, is actually truly a global organisation. A third of our members are from outside the US. And recently, going back a few years, we decided that the best way to partner with our international members is to create Regional Councils where we ask them what they wanted from ASCO, and what programmes and projects we could adapt for the region. So our first Regional Council was formed in 2019 in the Asia-Pacific, then Latin America, a year ago Sub-Saharan Africa Regional Council, where we met for the first time here in Dakar this week. Then just a couple weeks ago we launched an Eastern and Central European Regional Council.

So what the Sub-Saharan Africa Regional Council talked about at this in-person meeting was, one, selection of an International Cancer Corps site that would be a tight relationship between a specific cancer centre in a low- or middle-income country and ASCO, to build capacity with a focus on multidisciplinary team-building, palliative care, etc. Another part of our discussion this last week in the Sub-Saharan Africa Regional Council was on a grant opportunity. So what we heard from our Regional Council members was: ‘We’ve been trained in how to do research. We need you to help us get opportunities.’ So we had an industry partner come in, Pfizer, and they approached Conquer Cancer, our foundation, and said, ‘We will give you money. We will let it be unrestricted, outside of we want it to be in breast cancer.’

So the money will go through Conquer Cancer, but our Regional Council spent this week deciding what are the priorities for what kinds of breast cancer projects they’ll prioritise? And then they will advertise the request for applications, and then they will grade and select. So it’s the Regional Council members deciding what’s important there. So that’s thrilling, and we hope to have that announcement in December of 2023, or maybe shortly after the new year, as an opportunity for ASCO members in Sub-Saharan Africa.

And then the third piece that other Regional Councils have done – we haven’t quite moved toward it yet in Sub-Saharan Africa – is a regional leadership development programme. And that would be having applications come from members in the region and a year-long training course on leadership development – breaking up into groups, picking a project, presenting a project, and developing skills.

What benefits does ASCO offer to members in LMICs?

As of this year, ASCO membership is free to oncologists who are practising in low- and lower middle-income countries. We hope within the next few months to be able to also extend that to researchers, allied health professionals, patient advocates, in the same countries. So it’s really thrilling. We’ve had our booth here, have many people come and join ASCO at the AORTIC meeting. We have the ongoing India Cancer Congress right now, where I’ve heard we have over 600 ASCO members signed up because of this. And what we need to prove is what’s the benefit to them to become an ASCO member, which is you get access to some of our journals, you get to apply for awards and grants, you get to be on committees, you get discounts on attending the meeting. So we hope that we’re actually really supporting the members, and we’re thrilled to be able to offer free membership in low- and lower middle-income countries now.