7.6 million people worldwide die from cancer every year and that figure is expected to rise as people live longer and diagnosis is improved. 70 percent of all cancer deaths occur in low- and middle-income (LMI) countries, and Sub-Saharan African populations are particularly hard-hit by this disease. One of the best ways to save lives is through earlier diagnosis, which requires improving the accessibility of quality training for health workers in the region, a key area of the IAEA's involvement.
Through its Programme of Action for Cancer Therapy (PACT), in cooperation with its international partners in cancer control and with the support of the Roche African Research Foundation, IAEA launched an initiative in 2010 to establish a Virtual University for Cancer Control (VUCCnet) supported by regional cancer training and mentorship networks in Sub-Saharan Africa.
This initiative, collectively referred to as VUCCnet, is helping to establish training and mentorship networks within and among low- and middle-income countries, while utilizing a web-based platform to make educational materials on cancer diagnosis and treatment more easily accessible to trainees. Improving training and its accessibility will save lives by helping identify cancer before it is too late to be treated, and by ensuring that treatable cases are handled by well-trained health workers.
In 2011, four Member States participated in a "proof of concept" exercise involving an e-learning course on Cervical Cancer Prevention and Early Detection. Now the VUCCnet initiative is transitioning towards becoming an intergovernmental entity with a managing Secretariat located in the region.
In July 2013, VUCCnet's founding Member States (Egypt, Ghana, South Africa, Tanzania, Uganda and Zambia) unanimously agreed to ask the Government of Uganda to host the Secretariat of the VUCCnet on behalf of the Sub-Saharan African region. The Ugandan Minister of Health, Dr. Ruhakana Rugunda, agreed to lead the process of establishing the intergovernmental agreement among the VUCCnet founding Member States.
On 27 November 2013, a meeting was held in Uganda at the Makerere University, where it was decided to launch three courses on cancer control that can be implemented on the regional platform by mid-January 2014.
The creation of the Secretariat and the transformation into an intergovernmental entity are important steps in achieving increased cross-border movement, enhanced resource sharing, and the vision of continuous development and improved delivery of quality material for cancer treatment and prevention.
The launch of courses in the coming year will mark the implementation of a long-term effort to fight cancer through the sharing of knowledge. The easy exchange of knowledge and training that VUCCnet offers could result in a remarkable turn in the battle against one of humanity's persistent killers.