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Oncology education in Africa: progress through innovation and collaboration

23 Mar 2021
Guest Editor: D Cristina Stefan

Adjunct Associate Professor, SingHealth Duke-NUS Global Health Institute (SDGHI), Duke-NUS Medical School, Singapore


Education is “the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world”, as Nelson Mandela said so truthfully many years ago. Education has also been recognised to be a powerful vehicle to implementing equality of opportunity and thus accelerating the progress of nations.

We found in these thoughts the inspiration for the present special issue, which contains just a few highlights of the great transformation in oncology education taking place on the African continent, of the diverse and innovative ways of instruction used, as well as of the abundant opportunities for collaboration with the rest of the world.

Africa has made tremendous progress in the last years in medicine, and education has always been recognised as the most powerful tool to be used in order to access the latest innovation and information in the world. I attended, not too long ago, the conference of the Western College of Surgeons which took place in Senegal, where more than 800 participants from across the continent shared their views, expertise and results of their research. Among many specialist sessions, the one on the education of the next generation of doctors in Africa enjoyed a special interest. There were ardent debates around curricula, students’ assessments, logbooks, as well as original thoughts about the community involvement of the future doctors. A need for harmonisation of the medical curricula across the continent was also discussed.

To invite further debates about the improvement of oncology training, we called for papers reflecting the progress made in various institutions, from different African countries. The papers published in this edition include different topics from sharing experiences of education and training of oncologists from a low resource setting in Zimbabwe to oncology nursing education and training in Africa, topics of general interest to a large group of health practitioners and health staff.

The paper written by Ntokozo Ndlovu and her team in Zimbabwe is an example of a sustainable initiative, born out of collaborative partnership and sustained from local resources. The training in Radiotherapy and Oncology in Zimbabwe was established in 1990, through collaboration between the Government of the country and WHO. The programme was born from the need to address the gaps in cancer management in Sub-Saharan Africa, while linking the education to a comprehensive cancer control plan. The programme trains oncologists in Africa who in turn continued to train others. The paper highlights the importance of  a proper infrastructure to support further educational projects such as subspecialising and strengthening of other disciplines such as medical physics, and surgical disciplines. The authors also discuss the need for standardisation of the African oncology curriculum, resulting in a high quality programme, allowing the recognition of specialists trained in other countries on the continent.

The next paper by Naomi Ohene Oti and colleagues, Strengthening of oncology nursing education and training in Africa in the year of the nurse and midwife: addressing the challenges to improve cancer control in Africa highlights the urgent need to train specialist oncology nurses on the continent. Too little has been done so far to address this problem, which constitutes a significant stumbling block in delivering adequate care to cancer patients.

A further original paper, showing the efforts to build oncology radiation capacity for low mid-income countries (LMICs) through collaboration, mentorship and research is Clinical Research Mentorship Program (CRMP) for Radiation Oncology Residents in Africa – Building Capacity Through Mentoring. Rebecca KZ Wong and colleagues describe  how a Clinical Research Mentorship Program (CRMP) was formed, as a collaborative initiative between the University of Toronto Department of Radiation Oncology, Princess Margaret Cancer Center, delivered in collaboration with LMIC radiation oncology residency programmes with the primary goal of enriching the research experience of LMIC oncology trainees.

At the heart of the programme is a formalised relationship, a triad, between a LMIC oncology trainee, their local supervisor and a mentor from Toronto. Within the collaborative environment created between the LMIC and High income country (HIC) institutions, enabled by remote learning technologies, a 12- week research methods seminar kick starts a year-long mentorship for the trainee on their research question. Their paper describes the background, programme design, lessons learned, and future directions with specific focus on the additional component of a development strategy for the mentors and supervisors that will be launched and evaluated in 2020-21.

The series ends with Using Advanced Information and Communication Technologies to Advance Oncology Education in Africa by Lidia Asana and her collaborators which assesses the readiness, interest and potential models for effective implementation of ICTs powered oncology education in Africa. They describe the recent work and events which highlighted the tremendous potential of information and communication technologies in advancing global oncology education, research and care. The COVID-19 pandemic has made the development of effective approaches for online education even more necessary. The authors presented the results of a survey conducted in order to assess the e-learning readiness of oncology health professionals using an online self-assessment tool. The components of e-learning readiness assessed included access to computers, internet, appropriate bandwidth, and interest. An analysis of results, challenges, and opportunities resulting from the survey was done, whose findings contribute to advancing online oncology education in Africa.

I hope that this special issue will contribute to the efforts of developing medical education of the highest standards, of strengthening the process of continuous learning, and developing collaboration beyond political or geographical borders.  I truly hope that the reader will enjoy this special edition on oncology education in Africa just as much as I did and will feel emboldened to join the effort to educate more oncology specialists in Africa.

Artículos de Edición Especial

Lydia Asana, Credit Irabor, Samuel Seppo, Chrystelle Jean, Twalib Ngoma, Ahmed Elzawawy, Wilfred Ngwa
Rebecca KS Wong, Verna Vanderpuye, Joel Yarne, Ntokozo Ndlovu, Nwamaka Lasebikan, Ewa Szumacher, Zahra Kassam
Ntokozo Ndlovu, Sandra Ndarukwa, Albert Nyamhunga, Patience Musiwa-Mba, Anna Mary Nyakabau, Webster Kadzatsa, Melinda Mushonga