By Loren Dondo
THE world marks the 4th of February to commemorate the World Cancer Day organised by the Union for International Cancer Control (UICC), as the pandemic continues to isolate many.
First started in 2000 at the World Summit Against Cancer for the New Millennium in Paris, the day was created to raise awareness and promote research towards the prevention of cancer.
The event also has a focus on the need to ensure equal access to medical care, including diagnosis and treatment.
Many have been touched whether directly or indirectly by cancer which has led to tragedies across the globe.
The day serves to remember those who have lost the battle against cancer and honours survivors of the dreadful disease.
This year’s theme which is “I can, we can” acknowledges that everyone has the capacity to address the cancer burden.
The theme also demonstrates the urgency for unity during a trying time where institutes are not only looking to find a cure for cancer but also to beat Covid-19.
Although the Covid-19 pandemic can pose a threat on the progress being made in fighting cancer, this year’s theme will create an opportunity to address systematic weaknesses in health systems.
For instance, The World Cancer Day theme “I Am and I Will” encapsulates the extraordinary spirit and the strength of the cancer community, showcasing stories and testimonies of those dealing with cancer during the pandemic.
The testimonies confirm difficulties for cancer organisations in maintaining life-saving services, not only due to a drop in resources but also because of the necessary measures enacted to contain the spread of the coronavirus and fears of contagion on the part of patients.
There is an evident shortage in frontline staff, sometimes redirected to the Covid-19 response.
Barriers to early diagnosis, treatment and palliative care are one of the key issues caused by national lockdowns imposed in various countries, at the moment.
Premature mortality is being triggered by the deadly coronavirus that has spread faster each day, equating to 103 million total cases and 2.24 million deaths.
President of UICC and Director of Oncology at Apollo Hospitals in India, Professor Anil D’Cruz, said: “It appears quite certain that disruptions to cancer services in the past year will lead to diagnosis at later stages, which in turn will translate into higher cancer-related mortality.
“Worse still, the wider economic impact of the pandemic on cancer care in all probability will be felt for many years to come, even in high-income countries.
“However, it is heartening to see the incredible response of the cancer community to mitigate these consequences both in India and elsewhere.
Their stories are inspiring and these organisations need all the support we can provide to keep doing their incredible work.”
In spite of the challenges currently faced by health sectors in certain parts of the world, the private sector is developing innovative technologies.
Digital technology is allowing doctors and research centres to collaborate and share knowledge at a global level, while accelerating the move towards greater patient-centred care.
Technology has been one of the useful tools being utilised during the Covid-19 pandemic, due to social distancing, and has proven to be effective.
Consultant and Breast Cancer Surgical Oncologist at Aga Khan University Hospital in Kenya and Member of the UICC Board of Directors, Dr Miriam Mutebi said: “There has been notable progress in cancer care in recent years. In high-income countries, we have seen drops in incidence and mortality rates for certain cancers.
“In low- and middle-income regions such as Africa, we are seeing a promising increase in awareness about cancer as well as moves towards the implementation of national cancer control plans.
“Now is not the time to lose ground but, moving forwards, we must not only take advantage of the adaptations and innovations that are emerging as a “silver lining” to COVID-19, we must also take the opportunity to improve health systems as the pandemic passes.”
Dr Cary Adams, CEO of UICC said: “COVID-19 has impacted cancer control globally and the response by the cancer community has been extraordinary, heroic even. This year, more than ever, it is appropriate that we celebrate their achievements on World Cancer Day.
“Let us all aim in 2021 to refocus our collective efforts on the long-term challenges that cancer poses to every country in the world. We must prevent more, diagnose earlier and ensure that all people living with cancer have access to the quality treatment they need.”
The dialogue over effective ways to treat cancer during the pandemic can move quicker when interconnectedness is achieved through technology or social media.