Union for International Cancer Control: successes and the future

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Published: 14 Jan 2011
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Prof Mary Gospodarowicz - University of Toronto, Canada

Prof Mary Gospodarowicz, president-elect of the Union for International Cancer Control (UICC), tells ecancer.tv how she hopes to take the organisation forward during her presidency. One of the strengths of the UICC is the diversity of its membership; its members include governments, patient groups, cancer control organisations and charities, and cooperation between all of these important groups is essential in order to make significant strides in the fight against cancer. Prof Gospodarowicz discusses how the UICC can support its members, helping them build partnerships and to remove any aspects of competition from the cancer community and talks about the businesslike approach the UICC will be taking to maximising the funds available for its members. The UICC are working together with a number of organisations in the non-communicable diseases alliance (NCD Alliance). Prof Gospodarowicz explains why this alliance was formed and what she believes it can achieve.

NCRI Cancer Conference 2010, 7 November 2010, Liverpool

Professor Mary Gospodarowicz – University of Toronto, Canada

Union for International Cancer Control: successes and the future

Many congratulations, Professor Mary Gospodorowicz from Canada, you are now the boss of the world! You are about to be the president of the UICC.

Not yet, in two years.

What is the new English title?

The Union for International Cancer Control.

And you take over the leadership?

In summer of 2012.

OK, so you were appointed in China at that meeting a little while ago and you have been known for a long time for your pioneering work. What are you cooking up? Because you’ve got an incubation period before you take over the reins from Argentina, I suppose. What are you thinking are going to be the ways that you will re-shape this organisation?

Well I see there is tremendous potential. I see now it is a very old organisation but it has grown recently and it’s the only organisation in cancer that actually has organisational members from all walks of the cancer family. It has members that are scientific cancer institutes, professional cancer organisations, cancer leagues and cancer societies which is the advocacy sector; patients and patient support groups and national cancer control organisations. In fact in some countries, ministries of health are members of the UICC, so it is the only organisation that combines this very variable diverse membership, and diversity is its strength. And we have recently segmented our membership and there are four separate and distinct groups, and are hoping to grow the membership in all the domains because, as you know, cancer now requires efforts from very diverse communities. It requires the efforts of advocacy and charity as well as cancer control organisations in governments, and health care organisations to back up what is the scientific effort of professionals.

And bringing that all together is easier said than done.


So how are you going to do it?

It takes a village, it takes all of us, and I think our strength is our membership and we need to mobilise the members, we need the members to engage. And what I what I would say is it’s not what UICC can do for you, it’s what you as a member can do for UICC. So unfortunately a lot is expected and there is some disconnect between the expectations of UICC, what UICC should be doing, and the level of support for UICC. So I think we have to strengthen the level of support, strengthen membership, get funds and provide support and partnerships between the various cancer organisations. There is no doubt that we live now in a very interconnected world; we are part of the interconnected world, we are actually connecting the world. This is also a very inter-dependent world, we are all in this business together, and if we can strengthen the partnerships and the UICC can provide the forum for everybody who is involved and engaged in cancers, and especially marrying the advocacy community with the consumers and recipients of cancer care and the health care systems and the governments then we would have achieved something; because that conversation needs to happen and the systems need to support each other rather than compete. We need to get the competition out of the cancer world.

Mary, in your list of issues was funding, right in the middle. Now my experience of UICC running the fellowship program for eight or nine years was that funding was always an issue, and we need to be innovative in cracking that one otherwise your presidency will come and go and we will still be having this discussion at the end of it. How are you going to do that?

Well we recently changed the leadership in the UICC, our CEO is a former banker. Business types of practices will come into UICC and I think UICC needs to be run much more like a business rather than a club of friends which it was. In the 21st century friendly clubs don’t perform very well, so I think the organisation will have a clear performance matrix that would include fund raising, very transparent expenditures, very transparent funding, and also looking for partnerships, looking for leverage; leverage the UICC ability with other pockets of money. Because there’s lots of money in cancer, there are many organisations that are very rich and we need to change the framework from that of competition to collaboration and leveraging each other’s strength. UICC has strength, it’s diversity of membership and the fact that everybody is equal, it is not an organisation that has an “A” in front, it is not American, it is not “E”, it is not European, it is international. Everybody is an equal member and I think that as such it has great potential. But I fully agree with you that it has to leverage the modern technology, so modern information and communication technologies like what you’re using.


I think are essential, and in fact I think at that some time I proposed the sort of eUICC platform in framework because I think that is probably the most cost effective way to engage the world and transfer the information. It is happening informally right now, it needs to happen a bit more formally. And also I think UICC cannot marginalise other organisations, it needs to bring them into the fold, collaborate with them, make them members and embrace all efforts against cancer worldwide; so partner rather than compete.

Now that partnership would include WHO. There is a big opportunity coming up next year, end of next year, maybe, this is the non-communicable disease…

The high level UN summit.

And that seems to be me to be an opportunity for the UICC leadership to really make an impact because, quite honestly, a lot of us at the coal face in oncology have just given up on WHO, and this is not a good attitude. And I think that if anybody can tell WHO how it really is at the coal face then I think I would be UICC; you would get my money for that. How are things getting on at that level?

So the UICC is working with WHO with the usual challenges of working with government organisations, but it has also partnered together with the World Heart Federation and the World Diabetes and the Lung Cancer Organisations to form a non-communicable diseases, NCD, alliance in order to partner, to prepare for the summit. So the preparations are on-going right now with these world organisations to form common strategies and to prepare for the high level UN summit next fall. It is also known that it is now less than a year and I think that the efforts we can convene together in less than a year are limited, and it’s very important not to have too high expectations for this NCD summit next year but to start formulating a strategy that could be deployed for the next three to five to ten years. Cancer is much more complex than TB, malaria and HIV AIDS. It is, as you know well, a group of many diseases; it requires different strategies in different parts of the world and it requires very robust and healthy health care systems. So I think our partnerships with other diseases, working together with the UN, working together with WHO will create a better future.

I was at the WHO Planning Meeting in Geneva a week or two back and I was very heartened by what I heard there. I was also struck by the fact that this is a wonderful opportunity for prevention research to link up the diabetes people and the heart people and the respiratory people, because many of the aetiological factors which can be altered, and there’s not too many of them, thinking of smoking obviously and exercise and diet and getting obesity off the map. They are common, they are common to the diabetic doctors and the heart doctors and the respiratory doctors. And I actually saw some common ground and I think this is a really optimistic way to organise the discussion, and I think it’s great. Are you going to be taking part in this?

Yes, together with the previous president of the UICC and the current president were part of the Advisory Group for the UN High Level Summit, however I think that what the UICC needs to do is make sure that we don’t repeat the mistakes that many cancer systems in the world have made, because we are very multi-professional, multi-disciplinary, we know the cancer needs diversity in this approach but cancer in some countries is becoming a silo. There is no doubt that cancer is better organised than some other chronic diseases in various countries, but by isolating cancer as a separate disease we form just another silo in health care. So the integration with other chronic diseases or acute diseases or infectious diseases for this matter, in controlling cancer will become very important. So I think that initial impression of this high level summit was why wasn’t it on cancer, why was it on all the non-communicable diseases? What an unfortunate name starting with “non”; why don’t we just call it chronic diseases? But after a while I think we see, as you said, an opportunity in partnering with organisations that look after other illnesses and actually strengthening the systems.

Mary, I wish you every success, and you’ve got a little while to plan your attack and I do seriously hope that the WHO initiative goes well. I think it will be terrific.

Thank you very much for the opportunity.

Thank you for coming along and giving us a couple of minutes.

And I hope that all your viewers and all their organisations will become members of UICC because, as you know, it will take a village, it will take everybody to succeed and the strength of UICC, is the members.