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ESMO Urges WHO Member States to Conclude Pandemic Agreement and Prioritise Protecting Patients with Cancer during Pandemics

As the 194 WHO Member States extend their negotiations on the Pandemic Agreement until May 2025, ESMO’s open letter urges them to strengthen health systems for continued cancer care during and beyond pandemics
05 Jul 2024

WHO Member States decided at the 77th World Health Assembly in Geneva, May 2024, to continue their negotiations to reach consensus on the Pandemic Agreement. The first meeting of the extended mandate is planned for 16.-17 July 2024.

ESMO has contributed actively to the negotiations over the past two years and has issued an open letter to the Member States embarking on the final stretch to reach an agreement. The letter emphasises the need to ensure that patients with cancer are not left behind in pandemics, recognising the severe strain the COVID-19 crisis placed on healthcare systems and the significant impact it had on cancer prevention and care. The COVID-19 pandemic exacerbated the vulnerable situation of patients with cancer, and data show that delays in cancer screening, diagnosis, and treatment have led to substantial fatalities, with projections indicating, for example, potential excess mortality of up to 6,000 patients in France in the coming years¹.

Acknowledging the critical nature of this issue, ESMO urges the 194 WHO Member States to integrate sustainable cancer care services into preparedness planning and emergency responses, finalise the Pandemic Agreement with including a reference to secondary and tertiary care where patients with cancer are predominately treated, and retaining the current provisions for protecting vulnerable populations and healthcare workers in pandemic situations.

ESMO’s open letter emphasises translating principles into measures to safeguard patients worldwide. Key actions include:

  • Safeguarding access to cancer care: Ensure uninterrupted cancer services during pandemics, including screening, early detection, diagnosis, treatment, follow-up, and palliative care. This requires adequate resources, medicines, personnel, and the continuance of active clinical trials.
  • Supporting healthcare workers: Prioritise healthcare workers' well-being by ensuring decent working conditions, mental health support, and ethical guidelines for resource-scarce situations.
  • Mitigating inequities: Establish resilient healthcare systems based on Universal Health Coverage (UHC) and address disparities in cancer care access. Optimise the oncology workforce and develop robust referrals across all care levels to ensure timely, affordable access.

The Pandemic Agreement is aimed to be presented for adoption latest by the 78th World Health Assembly in May 2025. ESMO continues to participate and contribute to the process, as enabled by the Society’s status as a Non-State Actor in Official Relations with WHO.

  1. Blay JY, Boucher S, Le Vu B, Cropet C, Chabaud S, Perol D, Barranger E, Campone M, Conroy T, Coutant C, De Crevoisier R, Debreuve-Theresette A, Delord JP, Fumoleau P, Gentil J, Gomez F, Guerin O, Jaffré A, Lartigau E, Lemoine C, Mahe MA, Mahon FX, Mathieu-Daude H, Merrouche Y, Penault-Llorca F, Pivot X, Soria JC, Thomas G, Vera P, Vermeulin T, Viens P, Ychou M, Beaupere S. Delayed care for patients with newly diagnosed cancer due to COVID-19 and estimated impact on cancer mortality in France. ESMO Open. 2021 Jun;6(3):100134. doi: 10.1016/j.esmoop.2021.100134.

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