Cancer Cell

Mapping Global Oncology: A Q&A with Donna Barry

More than 60% of world’s total new annual cancer cases occur in Africa, Asia and Central and South America—and the same regions account for 70% of the world’s cancer deaths, according to the WHO. The founders of Global Oncology (GO)—Hematology/Oncology Fellows at Harvard Medical School—set out to address these inequities, in even the most resource-constrained settings, by sparking partnerships between skilled professionals around the world and cancer providers in resource-constrained areas. Now, GO offers education, research, and palliative care projects, including a Global Cancer Map—a web-based platform that catalogs international cancer research, cancer care, and cancer outreach programs. The platform aligns cancer care efforts of governmental agencies, NGOs, academic institutions and industry partners, and currently features 1,800 projects in 124 countries, focused on 32 types of cancer. GHN reached out to GO’s executive director, Donna J. Barry, to learn more about GO’s unique mission.

What are some of the most promising collaborations that your Global Cancer Map has inspired in resource-limited settings so far? What will be new in the 2.0 version of the map, and when will it launch?
The map has already proved useful, connecting a user in El Salvador, for example, with investigators and implementers working on other cancer-related research and projects to share information. Another user who works in the private sector often highlights the map during his presentations to for-profit and non-profit groups in developing countries. This has helped us find new users as well as helping users connect with one another and to learn more about existing research and projects in their own country..

We are rebranding the map with version 2.0 to The GO Map. We hope that a soft launch will start in February with a public launch taking place in March or early April. Version 2.0 will be far more interactive and allow users to create user profiles and interact with other users, and allow us to collect more information about the partnerships and collaborations formed as a result of the GO Map. They’ll be able to submit cancer projects and events directly to the Map; post blogs and articles, and browse cancer-related statistics in countries and across regions. It will make it possible to stay up-to-date on advances in global cancer research and care by tracking and following cancer types and/or countries as well as other users and organizations.

As GO continues to help improve palliative care around the world, what are the key obstacles you are discovering? Is it primarily a question of training, resources, or policies?
Key palliative care challenges vary by region and country, and they can be educational, political, financial, and cultural in nature. Still, we’re finding many communities display strong support for building palliative care programs and integrating them into health care systems.

Poor access to prescription pain management is an example of a specific obstacle, another is chronically low access to opioids. In others, it’s driven by direct-to-consumer marketing of more expensive drugs like fentanyl, physicians unaccustomed to giving opiates, or government policies that sometimes block access to oral opioids or limit administration of opioids to physicians. There are often access and affordability issues at the patient and caregiver level but also regionally and nationally in many countries.

How will you measure success?
For all our projects we are tracking qualitative and quantitative indicators to show success or failure so that we can adapt and, hopefully, replicate success. For instance, with the new map we will be tracking the number of users and the most-used features. Qualitatively, we’ll be seeking and responding to user-feedback on existing and new map activities and widgets.

How do you determine which topics and languages to prioritize for your low-literacy education materials, currently available in English, Spanish, Chichewa, Kinyarwanda, Setswana and Haitian Creole?
Requests from our partners overseas inspired our first translations. The materials were originally developed for Malawi at the request of nurses in Blantyre so English and Chichewa were the first languages. We are excited that the materials will be tested and used here in Boston this year at Boston Medical Center where they have significant numbers of patients who speak Spanish and Haitian Kreyol. In addition, we are hoping to develop a version of the materials for patients receiving radiotherapy.

GO recently announced 4 new advisory board members. What do you hope to accomplish in 2017 with their support?
All of our board members, including our newest additions, bring a wealth of knowledge, experience and connections. We just finished our strategic plan for the next few years, featuring new project ideas including working on the ground in resource-limited settings and more advocacy for global cancer care funding. We’ll be looking to our board members to help advise us in these efforts in advisory capacities, and in fundraising and developing new ideas.


Donna J. Barry, MSN, MPH, is the Executive Director of Global Oncology, a nonprofit organization with a mission to help reduce disparities in access to cancer care around the world. 

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