To truly understand what a momentous month South African Cancer Control has had, we have to go back to 2008 – to a civil society stakeholder conference, the first time all stakeholders including patients, civil society, policymakers and healthcare practitioners were invited to dialogue about cancer control in South Africa together. Participants, especially civil society, were divided and very wary of each other due to competition for scarce resources and a historical lack of collaboration. However, as improbable as it seemed at the time, this occasion marked the first steps on the road to policy makers hearing the South African cancer survivors’ voices.
In 2011, civil society again took a major step in our journey for cancer to become a priority on our National Health Department’s agenda by collaborating to hold the first ever Voice of Cancer Survivor Forum, a pilot project of the LIVESTRONG Foundation and the American Cancer Society. From this Forum emerged a resounding national call to action on cancer, a feat in itself as this was the first time cancer civil society aligned behind one single call that articulated what patients needed and what we were ready to fight for. We had four main asks, and they weren’t small: the collaboration of civil society into a cancer coalition, the establishment of a National Cancer Advisory Council by the Minister of Health, a national cancer control plan that is succinct and implementable, and a cancer registry that is well funded and maintained.
The path forward continued to unfold. In January of last year, the majority of South Africa’s Cancer NGOs came together to formally establish a Cancer Alliance- truly impressive considering where we started only five years earlier. In a stakeholder meeting earlier this month, the Deputy Minister of Health committed to the development of a National Breast Cancer Policy before the end of the year. And on April 16, Ministerial Advisory Committee on Cancer, which includes a Cancer Alliance representative, held its first official meeting. In his appointment of this committee, the Minister of Health took great care to ensure that civil society and patients were represented – a clear sign that government has acknowledged the crucial role civil society and patients play in cancer control and prevention. The Committee’s first call of business is to ensure that the National Cancer Registry, which has been largely neglected since 1999, is mobilized and adequately resourced. Even more exciting is that the Department of Health has also indicated that they foresee the finalization of our National Cancer Control Plan before the end of this year.
Cancer is being recognized as a major health issue. Patient voices are being heard. The government is responding with commitment and resolve, in what appear to be big actions. So against all odds, and to all of our surprise, it seems that Christmas has come early in South Africa.
CEO, Campaigning for Cancer
Cancer Alliance Executive Committee Member
Johannesburg, South Africa