The World Health Organization (WHO) has joined forces with the American Society of Clinical Oncology, Inc. (ASCO), the world’s leading association of physicians and oncology professionals, to develop and promote cancer care innovations that are specifically designed to enhance health outcomes, and take account of the contexts in which patients live.
The aim is to overcome some of the current inequities that exist in access to cancer care.
Over the last two decades, the arc of cancer control has diverged. One path has achieved improved survival through innovation and reliable access to high quality care. The other has subjected low-income and marginalized communities to inaccessible and poor quality care, emotional hardship and financial insecurity. these staggering inequities in cancer care between and within countries are progressively increasing.
The clearest distinction is between high- and low-income countries. Comprehensive treatment is reportedly available in more than 90% of high-income countries but in less than 15% of low-income countries. This is particularly alarming because the burden of cancer in low- and middle-income countries is poised to double over the next two decades from 12 million cases per year to 20 million by 2040.
Moreover, the COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated pre-existing inequities in cancer care. Nearly every country has reported some level of disruption in cancer care since 2020 with vulnerable populations and people who depend on weaker health systems suffering most.
Responding to cancer care challenges through innovations
At a global level, every government has agreed to United Nations goals of achieving universal health coverage and reducing premature mortality (i.e. before the age of 70) from noncommunicable diseases including cancer, But less than 10% of countries are on track to achieve these goals.
Innovation is needed to reach these targets.
And indeed, the pace of innovation in cancer care has been impressive, with a wealth of novel diagnostics, therapeutics and big data. But the world has not seen a similar upsurge in interest in the well-being of patients themselves.
Innovations in cancer care must reflect shared community values and patient-relevant measures. Social innovations in cancer care that are rooted within communities, and lead to increased patient satisfaction, reduced inequalities and better treatment completion. Approaches need to include: community engagement strategies that increase health literacy and timely presentation; patient navigators who facilitate the process from first contact with the health system to treatment initiation; and survivor networks that improve treatment completion and wellness.
Partnering to improve the quality of cancer care
The new partnership will enable ASCO and WHO to develop a coordinated approach to support WHO Member States and cancer centres with improved access to quality care by linking facility-level quality improvement activities with national strategies. This will accelerate implementation of WHO cancer initiatives in breast, cervix and childhood cancers.
“The partnership between WHO and ASCO catalyses meaningful innovation to address these persistent inequities – locally and globally – in cancer care,” said WHO Cancer Control Officer Dr André Ilbawi. Our partnership brings together ASCO’s 45 000 members and WHO’s offices in more than 150 countries to improve the quality of cancer care by providing direct support to governments and hospitals – particularly those in low- and middle-income countries – and incentivizing organizational and social innovations.”
“In seeking quality cancer care worldwide, the goals of ASCO and the WHO are fully aligned,” said ASCO President Everett E. Vokes, MD, FASCO. “Building on years of informal collaboration with WHO, we now look forward to working with our WHO colleagues and stakeholders to advance international quality programmes for cancer care – one of ASCO’s strategic focus areas. I strongly believe that achieving equity for patients across the spectrum of diagnosis, care, and survivorship begins with connecting the oncology community worldwide, and this collaboration is a major step toward that goal.”
Programmes planned under the WHO–ASCO partnership include developing evidence-based quality indicators that can be used to assess the quality of a facility’s care – with a focus on breast cancer and palliative care – and, scaling global best practices with an aim to advance innovation in improving quality of care. WHO and ASCO will draw on and synthesize key insights from stakeholders in their respective networks, including care providers, researchers, patients, and governmental authorities. By leveraging one another’s resources and establishing networks and quality tools, WHO and ASCO can amplify efforts towards providing high-quality care to more patients with cancer around the globe.