The IAEA´s Programme of Action for Cancer Therapy (PACT) held the first planning meeting for its new project, VUCCnet Africa, from 5-7 May 2010 in Accra, Ghana. This project seeks to build educational and training capacity for cancer control, with an emphasis on radiation medicine, in sub-Saharan Africa through regional training networks and a Virtual University for Cancer Control, collectively referred to as VUCCnet.
The meeting, hosted by the Ghana Atomic Energy Commission, and implemented through a related IAEA Technical Cooperation project, was a major stepping stone in the development of the VUCCnet project. Professor Samuel Kojo Dapaah, Chairman of the Ghana Atomic Energy Commission, set the tone for the meeting emphasizing the importance of training in the fight against cancer in Africa.
"In order to properly address the cancer epidemic in Africa, we must first address the continent´s need for medical training," he said.
Participants at the kickoff meeting, who came from a dozen cancer centres established by the IAEA over the past ten years, underscored the region´s dire need for comprehensive cancer control workers. External experts included representatives from the World Health Organization (WHO), the President of African Organisation for Research and Training in Cancer (AORTIC), the President of African Radiation Oncology Group (AFROG), and representatives from the four countries who will initially pilot the project, Ghana, the United Republic of Tanzania, Uganda and Zambia.
In addition, representatives from Egypt, Kenya, Nigeria and Zimbabwe attended to present their needs and experience in training, and to offer support for the initiative ahead of their participation in the VUCCnet project following the successful completion of its pilot phase. Contributions in terms of technical expertise, mentorship and training for the project have been pledged by several institutions, including the African Virtual University, the U.S. National Cancer Institute, Catalan Institute of Oncology, the International Network for Cancer Treatment and Research (INCTR), several South African cancer centres and the Egyptian National Cancer Institute.
The Chair of the meeting, Dr. Bhadrasain Vikram of the U.S. National Cancer Institute, remarked on the importance of the partnerships the project has forged.
"[VUCCnet] is a very important component, but only one component, of a multi-faceted approach to comprehensive cancer control," he said.
He also stressed that in order to achieve the best results from the VUCCnet working with the Ministry of Health and the WHO representative in each country will be necessary to create positions for cancer care workers that will undertake the actual cancer prevention, treatment and control activities.
The VUCCnet project aims to efficiently upgrade training efforts for health care practitioners who are working on the front lines of the cancer epidemic. The project will establish a platform with valuable cancer-related learning materials and will provide African health care professionals access to this platform through low-cost and efficient online channels, an effort that Dr. Vikram claims to be crucial for training prospective workers in a timely and cost-effective manner.
PACT, in collaboration with the IAEA Technical Cooperation Division for Africa and the Division of Human Health, supported by its partners WHO and others, aims to deploy the first stage of VUCCnet in the four pilot nations in as soon as six months, and the long-term goal of the programme is to extend its services throughout Africa and to LMI nations throughout the world. The initial project funding comes from the US Government and the Roche African Research Foundation.