Helping to Improve Africa’s Health Care Work Force with VUCCnet

Helping to Improve Africa’s Health Care Work Force with VUCCnet The IAEA’s Programme of Action for Cancer Therapy (PACT) was created in 2004 to confront the cancer crisis in the developing world by facilitating the transfer of technology and expertise in radiation therapy and nuclear medicine. At the IAEA 55th General Conference, PACT will host a special side event to recap the progress it has made in past couple years, highlighting its most recent successes while also discussing challenges for the future. The event will take place on Thursday, 22 September at 14:30 in building A of the Vienna International Centre.

Over the last five years cancer has killed more than 2.5 million people in Africa, and it is expected that millions more will die if no action is taken. To improve cancer control in Africa, it is essential that radiation medicine –one of the best known methods for the diagnosis and treatment of cancer— becomes more widely available.

A deficiency of skilled workers is seen as a key barrier to improving access to radiation medicine and other cancer control initiatives. Across Africa there is a drastic shortage of accessible knowledge and quality training programmes for comprehensive cancer control. In particular, local capacity to train and mentor practitioners within the region is not sufficient to ensure sustainable cancer control and to counter the effects of brain drain. Combined with a lack of financial resources, this scarcity of training opportunities has resulted in a great shortage of trained professionals in health care, particularly in cancer control and treatment. As a result, unless Africa is able to build a stronger workforce of health care professionals their population will continue to struggle against the growing cancer epidemic.

Connecting Africa with e-learning

The IAEA’s Programme of Action for Cancer Therapy (PACT), in cooperation with its international partners in cancer control and experts in radiation medicine, has developed an innovative learning tool to help address workforce shortages, called VUCCnet. Essentially, the VUCCnet project consists of two complimentary components.

The first component of the VUCCnet is the Virtual University for Cancer Control. The VUCC is designed as an innovative learning apparatus that, working alongside conventional teaching methods, integrates affordable cancer control education into the curricula being offered at existing African education and training institutions. Through the VUCC, students will have access to learning materials that can be used at their own pace, either alongside other course work, or as a means for practicing health care professionals to refine or update their knowledge base. The ease of access and affordability offered by the VUCC will allow for more learners to receive cancer control training, thereby increasing the number of health care professionals available in participating Member States. The second component of VUCCnet involves promoting the establishment of a Regional Cancer Training network (net) to consolidate programmes that currently exist throughout Africa, thereby increasing local capacity for training.

The project, funded by the Roche African Research Foundation, the US Government and the IAEA, is focusing initially on four Member States that represent the English-speaking component of VUCCnet-Africa: Ghana, Uganda, United Republic of Tanzania and Zambia. It is expected to initiate a French speaking segment of the project as soon as additional funding becomes available.In further developing cancer education and training in the pilot countries, South Africa and Egypt will operate as mentors as they currently maintain considerable educational capacity and can provide access to institutions focused on training cancer professionals, particularly the IAEA’s radiation medicine related candidates.

PACT and its partners are also seeking support from Member States in Africa that are more advanced in the area of cancer control training to share best practices and develop a culture of cooperation in cancer care education, eventually leading to the establishment of subregional cancer control workforce training hubs. By bringing together countries with similar cancer training goals, Africa will have the opportunity to harmonize regional policies regarding health care credentials, helping to standardize the path that aspiring African cancer care professionals must take to reach certification.

The Future of VUCCnet

The interest in VUCCnet is growing fast as more aspiring health care professionals are realizing the opportunity to receive a high quality, c education in across a variety of cancer control topics close to home. The VUCCnet pilot project, recently brought together 56 doctors and nurses for the inaugural e-learning course on cervical cancer and culminated in over 90% of those completing the course earning a passing grade and receiving accreditation.

Building on this success, PACT, in collaboration with its international partners, plans to develop 9 new courses that address areas specified as priorities by the VUCCnet pilot countries.