Get Up! Stand Up! Show Up!
NAIDOC Week provides the perfect opportunity for us as a society to reflect, engage and be inspired by First Nations people. In equal measure it’s a chance for us to recalibrate and align our efforts in striving for greater equity in cancer care and outcomes. Aboriginal Victorians are 71% more likely to be diagnosed with cancer than non-Aboriginal Victorians and almost 2.5 times more likely to die from cancer.
This year’s theme of NAIDOC Week Get Up! Stand Up! Show Up! calls for us to work collectively towards systemic change to support and secure institutional, structural, collaborative and cooperative reforms. I think this sentiment is directly transferrable into how we improve cancer care and outcomes for Indigenous people.
We have more to do but I’m really proud of the progress we have made as an organisation in laying the groundwork for a more substantial imprint in equitable cancer outcomes for Indigenous people:
- Our Research and Education Lead in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Health Dr Kalinda Griffiths, a Yawuru woman, has hit the ground running in leading our health equity program
- Our Health Equity Manager Vijaya Joshi, has been working tirelessly to embed an Indigenous equity lens within each of our programs and the organisation as a whole
- We have set out a specific goal to contribute to improving cancer outcomes with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities as part of our Strategic Program Plan, and
- We have partnered with the Victorian Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Organisation (VACCHO) to collaborate on lung cancer screening considerations for First Nations peoples.
National Cancer Plan's First Nations focus
As highlighted in our NAIDOC Week special Monday Lunch Livestream earlier this week, there is a specific and urgent need to understand the needs of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people when it comes to facilitating culturally responsive cancer care encompassing the physical, spiritual and community needs of the person.
Our First Nations peoples experience inequities at every point of the cancer continuum, and these inequities are cumulative in effect. Therefore, system change that challenges the status quo at all levels is what’s clearly required to drive measurable gains and ensure our trajectory towards equity for Indigenous populations has impact, momentum and sustainability.
To that end, I am pleased to see such a strong focus on Indigenous outcomes embedded throughout the emerging framework of the draft National Cancer Plan. Underlying each core strategic objective of the plan is an overarching goal to close the gap in cancer disparities between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians.
Missing cases cascade
The direct and indirect impacts of the pandemic continue to be felt across the community, particularly within the healthcare sector. Every month at the Victorian COVID-19 Cancer Network (VCCN) Taskforce meeting, we receive an update on cancer pathology notifications and the number of diagnoses these represent.
By now, we expected that we would have seen a surge in new cancer cases as those who put off checks and screenings emerged once the lockdowns ended. Alarmingly, this has not been the case and the predicted number of undiagnosed cases continues to rise – now exceeding 7,000 in Victoria alone. Interestingly, the vast majority of these are men, and this is across many cancer types.
Over the next few months, these missing cases will be a key focus for the Taskforce and something to monitor closely as the flow-on effects of the pandemic continue to come to bear.
Future-proofing cutting-edge education
Every year, the VCCC Alliance educates tens of thousands of people in the cancer workforce through symposia, lectures, conferences, courses and workshops. The average evaluation rating sits at 4.6, which is exceptionally high and testament to the work of our Cancer Education and Training Advisory Committee, many talented educators and trainers in our members and cancer community and our Education team.
Over the next few months, we will be transitioning to a new model designed to guarantee the long-term success of the program, ensure it remains at the cutting edge and that it is accessible to as many people as possible. To achieve this, we will charge fees for some programs to recover some of the costs from use of external providers and third parties.
As a not-for-profit organisation, our education philosophy will always be centred on quality, accessibility and equity, and the introduction of affordable fees for some activities will help us future-proof this important aspect of our work.
Queen’s Birthday honours for cancer community
I was delighted to see so many colleagues and friends from within the Victorian cancer community recognised with Queen’s Birthday honours last month. Each recipient has made a huge contribution to healthcare in Australia, and I congratulate each of you on this well-deserved acknowledgement:
- Professor Brendan Murphy AC, Secretary of the Australian Department of Health, former VCCC Board member
- Professor Peter Choong AO, St Vincent’s Hospital, Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre, University of Melbourne
- Associate Professor Kate Stern AO, The Royal Women’s Hospital
- Todd Harper AM, Cancer Council Victoria
- Dr Meron Pitcher AM, Western Health
- Professor Peter Revill AM, Doherty Institute
- Professor Clare Scott AM, WEHI
- Dr David Speakman OAM, Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre
Professor Grant McArthur