There is a drastic shortage of accessible knowledge and quality training programmes in Africa for comprehensive cancer control. The local capacity to train and mentor practitioners within the region is not sufficient to ensure sustainable cancer control and to counter the effects of brain drain in this field of expertise. Combined with a lack of financial resources, this scarcity of training opportunities has resulted in a great shortage of trained professionals in health care, particularly in cancer control and treatment.
The IAEA, through its Human Health Programme, has developed extensive educational and training material and curricula for radiation medicine. The Programme of Action for Cancer Therapy (PACT) Programme Office, in cooperation with its international partners in cancer control and experts in radiation medicine within the IAEA, has developed a pilot project to contribute to on-going efforts by Member States to address this shortage by using modern pedagogical IT-assisted methodology and e-learning in addition to traditional teaching approaches.
From 23-25 July 2013, the IAEA hosted in Vienna the week-long, annual Stakeholder Coordination Meeting for the Virtual University for Cancer Control (VUCCnet) Africa, one of the Agency's initiatives to strengthen workforce development capacity in sub-Saharan Africa in all areas of cancer control.
The VUCCnet Africa project, funded by the Roche African Research Foundation, the State Department of the United States and the IAEA, aims to establish a Virtual University for Cancer Control supported by regional cancer training and mentorship networks. This initiative aims at building a web-based platform in Africa to make educational materials more easily accessible to and affordable for trainees.
The meeting brought together the project's six founding African Member States. The four pilot countries for the English-speaking component of VUCCnet Africa are: Ghana, Tanzania, Uganda and Zambia. Egypt and South Africa serve as mentor countries, as cancer related professions are fairly advanced in these countries.
The IAEA is working with partners, notably the World Health Organization (WHO), the International Agency for Research on Cancer, the Union for International Cancer Control, and the United States' National Cancer Institute to support the VUCCnet project and to enable education materials covering the spectrum of prevention, early detection, diagnosis and treatment, palliative care and cancer information.
VUCCnet is focusing on African specific needs that include fostering knowledge, development, education and training in order to make cancer programmes in Africa comprehensive and sustainable, all of which are vital for the health initiatives undertaken by the Member States of the region.
The meeting confirmed that ownership of VUCCnet will be taken over by African Member States, as the meeting took the unanimous and historic decision to transform VUCCnet into an international Organization, whose secretariat will be hosted in one of the four pilot countries. Its transition into an international organization will bring VUCCnet increased opportunities for cross-border movement and resource sharing, and will help achieve the vision of continuous development and the delivery of quality learning and training material for cancer treatment and prevention.
VUCCnet is now entering a complicated yet brave new frontier in its evolution, with its constitution, legal framework, secretariat, board, and financial plan presently on the discussion table. The exact details of its future structure and role are still being reviewed but with the will of its Members for a decisive action against cancer, the determination to fulfil the objective of the VUCCnet Africa programme is steadfast.
The IAEA's Programme of Action for Cancer Therapy (PACT) works with international partners to support the world wide fight against cancer by making life saving nuclear technology and knowledge more available.