The latest advances from BioVentures for Global Health in Africa

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Published: 5 Jun 2019
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Jennifer Dent - BioVentures for Global Health, Seattle, USA

Jennifer Dent speaks to ecancer at the Global Health Catalyst Summit 2019 at the Dana Farber Cancer Institute in Boston, Massachusetts about the progress of BioVentures for Global Health since her last interview at AACR in April.

She outlines three of the current projects from BioVentures, including improving access in Nigeria, capacity building in Côte d'Ivoire, and launching new work in Senegal.

Jennifer also describes some of the main reasons we need to build capacity and access in these areas, and how momentum is building in this promising field.

The latest advances from BioVentures for Global Health in Africa

Jennifer Dent - BioVentures for Global Health, Seattle, USA

Today I’m going to talk about what we’ve actually achieved through our African Access Initiative, a programme over the last year since I was here at the Global Health Catalyst Summit one year ago.

What progress have you made in Nigeria?

We’ve made a lot of headway since we last spoke at the AACR Conference in Atlanta on our access programme plans in Nigeria. We’ve been working at the state level with key stakeholders in Kaduna and Kano states to map out the access plans and programme and budget and, importantly, the financial support for the programme. So we’ve briefed the governors of both states and the health commissioners have been briefed as well as a leading philanthropist in the country, Dangote, and the Amir of Kano has also been briefed. So we’re moving our access programme plans forward and we actually expect to be delivering cancer drugs within the next couple of months to patients at the Ahmadu Bello University Teaching Hospital.

Tell us about your capacity building work in Côte d’Ivoire

So capacity building, particularly in the diagnostic space in oncology is absolutely critical and it’s a big part of the work that we’re doing through the African Access Initiative. Most recently, just last month, we held a breast cancer pathology training workshop in Abidjan, Côte d’Ivoire in partnership with the pathology association in the country and also with the American Society of Clinical Pathology to train physicians, pathologists, healthcare professionals on the diagnosis of breast cancer patients. We held this programme in Abidjan, it was conducted in French so we brought experts from Montreal, Canada, to train. We had 95 physicians and healthcare professionals representing ten francophone African countries that participated in the workshop.

BVGH conducted a survey with participants before the training programme was held and immediately following, before the certificate was provided to attendees. We’ll be also conducting a survey of the participants at the three month point so we can actually measure and evaluate the impact of this training, not only immediately on the knowledge of the participants but also how they’re taking those new skills and learnings to their practice back in their own hospitals and laboratories.

Could you outline your work in Rwanda?

In Kigali we’ve also been working to build pathology and diagnostic capacity in the hospitals that are based in the capital of Rwanda, Kigali. We’ve placed Fellows to put SOPs in place in the pathology lab at the university hospital. We’ve also sent in technicians and Fellows to operationalise some equipment in the labs that either needed some minor repairs or that needed to be actually operationalised that had been sitting in boxes for about a year and had not yet been operationalised into the labs.

We’ve also helped the hospitals in Kigali improve their SLIPTA accreditation score in diagnostics and they’ve improved actually significantly since we’ve conducted these programmes. We continue to work in partnership with the Minister of Health of Rwanda, the Honourable Dr Diane Gashumba, and her team to improve the diagnostic capabilities at the hospital level.

Why is capacity building so important?

With oncology care capacity building is absolutely critical because the specialty areas of diagnosing and treating and managing cancer patients, the knowledge base is critical across the healthcare professionals. So filling the gaps as new diagnostic techniques are readily available here in the United States, transferring those skills and knowledge to pathologists and clinicians in Africa is critical so that patients can be diagnosed accurately and the correct treatment regimens can be prescribed. But also surgery is another area that we’ve started to build training programmes around to start to create the sub-specialty areas of skill in surgical oncology that are often lacking in oncologists and general surgeons in Africa. So that training we see will continue to be a critical component of the African Access Initiative and our work to start to build those partnerships with leading academics and build those skills.

Lastly, tell us about your work in Senegal

In Senegal our team was recently in Dakar, Senegal, to visit the two main cancer treating hospitals in the capital. Just earlier this week I was in Geneva at the World Health Assembly meeting with the Honourable Minister of Health and Social Action and his delegation to confirm plans to launch AAI formally at an event next month in Dakar, Senegal, with the Honourable Minister of Health presiding over that event. So we’ve confirmed our launch plans in Senegal and we’ve already conducted two needs assessments in the hospitals. So we’re ready to move very quickly in Senegal in partnership with the Ministry of Health to provide access to affordable, safe, quality cancer medicines for the population in the country.

Is there a lot of momentum in this area?

It definitely needs more work and there is a lot of opportunity for different organisations to play an important role in improving cancer patient outcomes in Africa. But there’s tremendous momentum. What we’re really excited about is seeing the commitment at the Ministry of Health level but also the oncologists and the healthcare professionals and their commitment to improving their ability to treat and manage cancer patients. So it’s really exciting to see the momentum that there is right now but I think it’s going to be even more exciting when we talk next and we can talk about patients’ lives being saved by having access to proper diagnosis and the treatment regimens that we have access to every day here in the United States.