As an American Cancer Society Global Scholar and having attended the Advocacy and action training in Boston last year, I learnt that financial and geographical factors are major barriers to accessing comprehensive cancer care especially in low- and middle-income countries. Issues pertaining to cancer and cancer advocacy are the same worldwide. The only difference is that some countries are better equipped to tackle cancer than others.
At times I am not certain that this has been so much of a war as opposed to a series of skirmishes that occasionally have produced incredible moments of optimism. There have been a fair share of frustrations along the way. Thus far, our science and equipment have for sure made significant progress.
All we need to do now is CARE more in order to win this fight.
As an attendee of the NextGen Leaders Workshop in 2016, I expect to gain an understanding of the current policy and political landscape of essential medicines for non-communicable diseases in Kenya, East Africa and across the globe.
This understanding should in turn help me develop strategies on how to drive policy and systems change. I am expecting that the training will offer a platform to advocate for cancer awareness and help develop policies that will deliver the tools to lead advocacy and action on NCDs in general.
The training shall equip other attendees with skills and technical know-how to develop national and regional strategies toward achieving the WHO goal of 80% availability of essential medicines and technologies for NCDs. The training will also help advocates with the implementation of the National Essential Medicines List, so that the concept of essential medicines is realized through public provision of affordable lifesaving medicines to all people who need them in the country, when they need them. Targeted therapies have been developed as a result of our increasing knowledge of what makes a cancer cell a cancer cell.
Targeted therapies have turned some cancers from killers into chronic diseases. For example, much has changed in the treatment of chronic myeloid leukaemia, where imatinib changed the face of a very bad situation. Another example is the use of Herceptin/Trastuzumab in the treatment of HER2-positive breast cancer. Large studies have confirmed that adding Herceptin to chemotherapy to treat women diagnosed with early-stage, HER2-positive breast cancer improves overall survival and disease-free survival compared to chemotherapy alone. Unfortunately, these therapies are not affordable to most of the public. Ordinary people – and that includes almost all of us in Africa can’t afford these therapies.
The health of a population is to a significant extent determined by the authorities, government or leaders. Cancer is certainly no different. Laws, legislation, policies, resource allocation and the prevailing mind-set of the authorities can all directly affect cancer care, both positively and negatively. Many great interventions can be made at grassroots level to improve cancer care.
In view of this, it is essential for Governments to be involved more on policies relating to cancer. I applaud the National Insurer (National Hospital Insurance Fund -NHIF) for finally accepting to cover cancer among other NCDs. For Kenya, this is a great milestone in cancer care!
This workshop is therefore very timely as it will be invaluable for its attendees who will become passionate proponents, supporters, advocates, volunteers and agents of change in their localities.
I feel really excited to share cancer patients’ stories as they navigate the treatment journey. No matter in which system of health care we live, cancer care needs to be adequate, affordable and available.