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Cancer Registries for Africa: Regional Workshop in Brazzaville Highlights Need for Action

A cancer registry systematically collects, interprets and reports data on cancer and produces statistics to assess the impact of cancer in the community. Registry data help to identify public health priorities and enable evidence-based decision making, for example, when designing a national radiotherapy action plan. However, few countries in Africa have adequate cancer registries in place.

A regional workshop to strengthen national capacities in establishing and operating cancer registries in support of cancer control planning took place in Brazzaville (Republic of the Congo), in February 2016. The week-long event brought together 35 experts in cancer registry as well as cancer control planning from Francophone African countries. Participants from 19 Member States of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) and the World Health Organization (WHO) exchanged their views and experiences with regard to the vital importance of cancer registries for an effective, comprehensive approach to cancer control.

The Brazzaville workshop was launched by the Honourable Minister of Higher Education of the Republic of the Congo, Prof. Georges Moyen. He was joined by the representative of the Regional Director of the World Health Organisation's Regional Office for Africa (WHO-AFRO), Dr. Joseph Cabore; by Dr. Maxwell D. Parkin as representative of the International Agency for the Research on Cancer (IARC) and Coordinator of the African Cancer Registry Network (AFCRN); and by Beatrix Lahoupe, who represented the IAEA's Programme of Action for Cancer Therapy (PACT), as part of the Agency's technical cooperation programme.

H.E. the Minister underlined the importance of cancer registries as an integral part of a comprehensive approach to cancer control. He praised the successful cooperation between the IAEA, WHO-AFRO, IARC, AFCRN and the Brazzaville cancer registry which made this workshop possible.

Dr Cabore, in his introductory remarks, highlighted the urgent need for population-based cancer registries in Africa to improve the availability of accurate and up-to-date cancer data for decision making, monitoring and evaluation. He reiterated the high priority of cancer prevention and control for the WHO-AFRO management team, and urged African decision makers and all stakeholders to support cancer registration as well as other cancer interventions in Africa. Dr Cabore called on participants to build and strengthen networks and partnerships at both national and regional levels for supporting cancer control including cancer surveillance.

"From the perspective of the IAEA, the unique value of cancer registry data is manifested in its contribution to decision making in cancer control", said Ms Lahoupe, Head of the Programme Design Section from the IAEA's Programme of Action for Cancer Therapy (PACT). She added, "Reliable, pertinent and quality data and analysis are essential for governments when considering large-scale, long term investments, such as the establishment of radiotherapy centres."

Dr Jean Marie Dangou, WHO-AFRO's Regional Adviser for Cancer Control, emphasised the workshop's full alignment with the joint WHO/IAEA action plan. "This is a timely and important workshop for the continent" he said. "It creates strong links and facilitates the collaboration and coordination between national cancer control planning and cancer registration management teams."

Several participants highlighted the advantages of the workshop set up, which according to Cheikhou Oumar Diop from Mauretania. "... facilitated the mutual appreciation among registry and planning staff and emphasised the complementarity of their activities", Karima Bendahhou from Morocco added: "The possibility to exchange experiences and discuss common challenges with other registries at different levels of maturity yet from the same continent is invaluable. Such encounters can spawn bilateral support for example through mentoring or exchange programmes."

Specific challenges emerged during the lively workshop discussions: ensuring follow-up on patients after diagnosis and/or treatment; strengthening engagement with the private health sector; interacting with pharmaceutical companies or other private entities with an interest in cancer data; determining the cause of death in the absence of reliable information; and funding for the establishment and/or operation of registries. The workshop's joint recommendations will be shared with national authorities and the organising entities for their consideration, in alignment with respective mandates.

The IAEA has been supporting regional and national capacity building efforts in relation to comprehensive national cancer control programmes for many years through PACT and the technical cooperation (TC) programme. This workshop was jointly financed by PACT and the Regional Division for Africa under the regional TC project RAF/6/046, 'Supporting Comprehensive Cancer Control', and organised in cooperation with WHO-AFRO, IARC, AFCRN and the Republic of the Congo. 
The World Health Organization (WHO) is the directing and coordinating authority for health within the United Nations system. It is responsible for providing leadership on global health matters, shaping the health research agenda, setting norms and standards, articulating evidence-based policy options, providing technical support to countries and monitoring and assessing health trends. In 2009, the WHO-IAEA Joint Programme on Cancer Control was established. The WHO-IAEA Joint Programme aims at coordinating activities and resources supporting the development and implementation of sustainable comprehensive cancer control programmes in low and medium income Member States. 
The International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), as a specialized agency of WHO coordinates and conducts research on the cause of human cancer, the mechanisms of carcinogenesis and aims to develop scientific strategies for cancer control. The main objective of collaboration between PACT and IARC is to coordinate activities and resources to provide evidence-based and sustainable support to comprehensive cancer control programmes in low and middle income countries. 
The African Cancer Registry Network (AFCRN) was established in 2012 and aims to improve the effectiveness of cancer surveillance in sub Saharan Africa by providing expert evaluation of current problems and technical support to remedy identified barriers. Since September 2012, IARC, in the framework of its Global Initiative for Cancer Registry Development in Low- and Middle-Income Countries, has partnered with AFCRN to provide a network Regional Hub for cancer registration in Sub-Saharan Africa. 

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