On World Cancer Day 2021, ESMO was invited by WHO Europe to speak at a high-level virtual event to launch their new initiative ‘United Action Against Cancer’. The initiative is based on 5 pillars: prevention, early detection, access for all to diagnosis and treatment, palliative care, and data collection. Addressing key areas of cancer care is important because every day in Europe, 13,000 people are diagnosed with cancer and 6,000 more lose their lives to it. Therefore, more emphasis needs to be placed on cancer prevention because about 30-40% of cancers can be prevented by lifestyle risk factor and vaccination interventions, such as increased efforts to curb alcohol and tobacco consumption.
This Pan-European cancer initiative calls on all stakeholders, from grassroots to governments to increase efforts to achieve the goal of eliminating cancer as a life-threatening disease. WHO Europe’s Regional Director Hans Kluge, along with their new Ambassador for Cancer, Aron Anderson, stated that by all of us working together there is hope to achieve this ambitious goal. Dr Kluge said, "We have a collective dream of living in a Region where cancer deaths are a rare exception, instead of the norm. Aron reminds us that this dream is not impossible, but it does demand that we unite our forces at all levels, from grassroots to governments, and put our knowledge to use, doing what we know works." Aron Anderson, grateful for a second chance at life after battling cancer at the age of 8 years old, plans to tour the region to get everyone on board.
Joachim Schuz, Head of Environment and Radiation at the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) spoke about IARC’s role as the global authoritative source of data on cancer, including its causes, preventive measures and their impacts, as well as evidence synthesis and recommendations – all necessary data to make informed research and policy decisions.
Her Excellency, Madam Salomé Zurabichvili, President of Georgia, as well as representatives from health ministries from several European countries, voiced their commitment to work with WHO Europe to implement the initiative in their country. Vlad Voiculescu, Minister of Health of Romania, noted in particular the need to address issues related to innovative expensive medicines as well as the prevention of shortages of essential inexpensive medicines.
Rosa Giuliani, ESMO Director of Public Policy, was invited by WHO Europe to speak about inequalities in cancer patient outcomes at the event. She noted that addressing inequalities is part of ESMO’s mission and that ESMO has a clear strategy and blueprint to address the entire continuum of cancer care. She stated that while there are many things that need to be done, European countries should begin by ensuring the availability of inexpensive, essential medicines, including cancer medicines because these medicines are cheap, lifesaving and vital for cancer patients – and most of them are also on the WHO Essential Medicines List and thus should be a part of every single European country’s national essential medicines list. She added that countries also need to encourage the uptake of biosimilars, especially for monoclonal antibodies including those for cancer, and to work together to address the issue of sustainability of healthcare systems.
WHO Europe plans to provide guidance for countries in the region to implement WHO signature solutions, “a set of cost-effective evidence-based policies and measures accompanied by technical guidance and tools for implementation” to achieve the goals of this Pan-European cancer initiative, with initial focus on childhood, cervical and breast cancers. Dr. Kluge emphasized that COVID-19 has obliged everyone to reconsider how to work together, and that we must do so in a way that “leaves no country, no community, and no person behind”.