World Cancer Day - Together All Our Actions Matter (Now More Than Ever)
, by Satish Gopal, M.D. M.P.H.
February 4th is World Cancer Day. February 4, also happens to mark the start of my second year as Director of the National Cancer Institute (NCI) Center for Global Health (CGH). So, it seems like a good day to pause and reflect. Thus far, I’ve had an amazing first year acclimating to a wonderful new organization and learning its culture. I often liken this experience to when my family and I first moved to Tanzania and Malawi many years ago. Being a native English speaker has helped my assimilation at NCI somewhat, though I have had to learn a new language with respect to United States government policies and acronyms.
For all the support and warmth I’ve received over the last year, it hasn’t gone quite as I was expecting. I did manage to locate my office before spending 90% of my first year working from home, competing for space and bandwidth with the rest of my family. I’ve been deeply inspired by the continued NCI focus on our primary mission of cancer research, even as we’ve made important contributions to address the global pandemic. I’ve wrestled with disruption, isolation, anger, and grief at events of the last year, alone and with my family and colleagues, while trying to productively channel some of these feelings into a recommitment to the work I love and the noble mission of NCI and CGH.
2021 promises to be a year in which we begin to emerge from the pandemic that has cost the world so much. This year marks the 50th anniversary of the United States National Cancer Act, and we at NCI plan to work closely with the greater cancer community to commemorate this landmark legislation that has meant so much to so many people. In addition, 2021 marks the 10th anniversary of CGH, which was created by Dr. Harold Varmus to consolidate and coordinate NCI engagement in global cancer research and control. During the last decade, there has been increased attention, momentum, and capacity for global engagement within the cancer research community. I believe the creation of a dedicated Center for Global Health at NCI, the largest funder of cancer research in the world, has contributed significantly to this larger progress, by supporting and coalescing global cancer research and control partners. I also believe continued global engagement is more important now than ever. We have great opportunities in the next decade to build on prior successes, learn from past failures, and ultimately achieve the impact that improves people’s lives worldwide. Indeed, these beliefs motivated my decision to join NCI last year.
Like the pandemic, cancer is a global problem requiring global collaboration and solutions. And as we have learned yet again during the pandemic, the world is highly and tragically inequitable. I believe we have a moral and scientific obligation to address these inequities, by ensuring that opportunities to participate in cancer research and the fruits of cancer research reach people everywhere. This is what I spent my entire academic life striving for before coming to NCI, and what I continue to strive for as CGH Director.
As we emerge from the pandemic, the need and opportunities for cancer research that is truly global AND equitable have never been greater. At NCI, discussions, projects, and programs are underway focusing on how new technologies like immunotherapy, artificial intelligence, and molecular diagnostics might be deployed in low- and middle-income countries. Not that long ago, such approaches seemed like science fiction even in the United States, but these have been actualized through sustained collaborative research with truly remarkable successes. It seems inevitable that creative global cancer teams will find ways to similarly realize the application of such tools in low- and middle-income countries. But new technologies must also be meaningfully translated and brought to a population-level scale. These efforts must include supporting and improving basic infrastructure for cancer research and control, supporting global cancer research careers, driving programmatic and policy adoption, and rigorously studying the dissemination and implementation of cancer control interventions in diverse populations, geographies, and health systems. Only through multidisciplinary commitment and efforts which span prevention to palliation, cells to systems, and Blantyre to Bethesda, can we expect to maximize the impact of cancer research on people’s lives worldwide.
The theme for this year’s World Cancer Day is ‘I Am And I Will’ with a subtheme of ‘Together, all our actions matter.’ For me, this year’s theme reminds me that I AM fortunate to be an employee of an amazing organization that has been a catalyst for scientific discoveries that have truly transformed people’s lives. I WILL strive to use this opportunity to advance the study of cancer everywhere such that it benefits people everywhere. This includes places I previously called home, countries that are breathtakingly beautiful with rich cultures and generous citizens, but where cancer research often feels like a faraway enterprise with little local meaning or value. We at CGH are committed to actively seeking partners and collaborators who share these goals. TOGETHER, ALL OUR ACTIONS MATTER, perhaps at this moment in time more than any other.