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United Against Cancer: Prevention to End-of-Life Care

Author: Harriet Kebirungi Training and Advocacy Officer Palliative Care Association Uganda and Mark Mwesiga programs Manager Palliative Care Association Uganda
17 November 2017
  • The Prime Minister of Uganda, Rt. Hon. Ruhakana Rugunda and State Minister of Health for General Duties, Hon. Sarah Opendi at the center with the delegates who attended the conference.

The Uganda Cancer Institute (UCI) and the Palliative Care Association of Uganda (PCAU) organized a joint International Conference on Cancer and Palliative Care in Kampala on 24th - 25th 2017. The conference which coincided with the 7th PCAU Conference of was held under the theme: “United against Cancer: Prevention to End, of Life Care. Also importantly, the Conference one of the series of activities to commemorate the 50 years of existence of the UCI.

The conference assembled researchers, healthcare providers, advocates, and patients from diverse disciplines who are involved in cancer care, palliative care and research. It was held under 4 objectives:

  1. To showcase cancer and palliative care research conducted in East Africa and elsewhere.
  2. To share strategies for standardization of cancer care across East Africa.
  3. To document resources available for cancer care, research, and training in East Africa, and identify gaps and priorities for improved access to care.
  4. To promote collaborative work on cancer and palliative care among participating national, regional and international institutions.

The conference offered information on the entire continuum of cancer care as well as palliative care for other conditions through plenary sessions delivered by state of the art speakers across five track areas. Presentations ranged from oral and poster presentations based on successful abstracts, abstract based workshops and special workshops identified by the conference scientific committee.

Delegates shared highlights of:

  • The importance of the World Health Assembly Resolutions on Palliative Care and Cancer Care.
  • The need to develop a National Cancer Control Programme in Uganda.
  • Strategies for effective cancer diagnosis and treatment in low and middle-income countries.
  • Emerging issues in advocacy, human rights and access to essential medicines, including nurse prescribing among others.

Special groups like the deaf and the visually impaired persons participated in the conference. Sign language interpreters were present in all sessions. 

A total of 20 organizations, which included national, regional and international agencies had exhibition stands showcasing their work, and there was significant media presence.

Presentations were given across the continuum of care, from prevention through to end-of-life care, across the age span, and, though the main focus was on cancer care, the provision of palliative care for other conditions was also addressed.

Pre conference and Side events

A breast cancer symposium was held on the eve of the conference. This was attended by 100 health care professionals and researchers in the field of cancer. As side event on assess to controlled medicines was also held on the first day of the conference. It was attended by key policy makers from government Ministries and Departments as well as law enforcement officers from the Antinarcotics Department of the Police. Among other key resolutions, the participants at the side event agreed to form an ad hoc committee on access to controlled medicines in Uganda to pursue the reinstating of legal document allowing specially trained nurses to prescribe opioids in Uganda.

Delegate feedback

The conference was hailed as a great success, with delegates reporting that it served as a one-stop forum where they got comprehensive updates on all aspects of cancer and palliative care, and challenged their knowledge on the topics presented. Many also reported that they found presentations enlightening in terms of current treatment options for individuals with cancer in Uganda, as well as new developments in cancer and palliative care. Ugandan delegates also found the conference a unique opportunity to bring people together and collaborate in developing cancer and palliative care within Uganda. An additional benefit of having a joint conference was the possibility for further networking and mutual learning between cancer and palliative care organizations. Delegates were able to create linkages through networking and collaboration during the conference.

Challenges included plenary sessions taking more time than anticipated. Break times had to be reduced to redeem some time, as delegates valued the contents of the discussions.


  1. Education and building capacity for cancer and palliative care service provision were seen as key to improving services in low and middle-income countries.
  2. Accessibility and availability of medicines, in particular controlled medicines such as oral morphine, is an ongoing challenge within palliative care and it is important that a balance is struck between accessibility and availability alongside the misuse of drugs. The need for governmental support was recognized, though the current support provided was acknowledged. The need for ongoing support for both cancer and palliative care service development were emphasised, together with education and research programs.
  3. There is need to develop a national cancer control programme in Uganda.

This joint UCI-PCAU Conference brought together clinicians, academics, human rights advocates, lawyers, clergy, researchers, social workers, policy makers, Ministry of Health officials, donors, and members of the press, representing over 100 organizations, to share lessons and adopt best practice for cancer and palliative care.

At the heart of this conference was the commitment to improve the provision of cancer care and palliative care within Uganda, with a desire to share and learn from each other.

Indeed it was a great success.

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