By Ben Delaney
Health, government and corporate officials from around the world met Monday in Dublin for the LiveStrong Global Cancer Summit. The Lance Armstrong Foundation held the three-day, international conference to facilitate collaboration among the various groups battling the widespread disease.
“Cancer will be the leading cause of death next year unless we act on a global level,” Armstrong said. “Our goal is to be the catalyst that brings everyone together to fight cancer ? from survivors like me to advocates from the farthest reaches of the globe, to world leaders and policymakers who must commit completely to the effort to avoid a public health catastrophe.”
Speakers at the summit included the ministers of health from Saudi Arabia to Belgium; presidents and CEOs from companies like Nike and Pfizer; and key figures from cancer agencies around the world.
Armstrong was introduced by Rosa Melvin Caird, a 9-year-old cancer survivor from West Cork. The day began with a flag procession showcasing the 65 countries represented at the conference. Then several panels of experts discussed topics like cancer’s global impact ? 33,000 people a day are diagnosed with cancer, the presentation stated ? and the challenges of balancing health priorities with government resources.
Armstrong flew to Dublin following the Tour of Ireland, which ended Sunday in Cork. At the summit, he talked in bike-racing terms about the cancer fight.
“In cycling we (have) the general classification, the overall results. The real GC will be determined here,” Armstrong said. “We, all 500 of us, will determine the results of our team. Nobody is going to walk away from this summit and have cured this disease per se, but I think we can walk away with an idea of how to affect change in our families, in our communities, in our countries, in our cultures. And I think that’s the real point.”
Nigeria’s former prime minister, Olusegun Obasanjo, spoke on a panel about government action. He emphasized the importance of mobilized grassroots efforts in forcing government leaders to act, and listed HIV, malaria and polio as examples of how health problems can be combated through high-level government attention.
“Smallpox got attention to the point of eradication,” Obasanjo said. “I believe that particularly the NGOs, the national cancer societies, the efforts of the press and the religious organizations, and other NGOs (must) reach the government at the highest level. It must be seen as a total effort. What to my mind is most important is how to build the grassroots.
“Because when the grassroots is mobilized, particularly in a democracy, the grassroots can prevail on their leaders to do something about the particular issue. Cancer should be taken as an issue that requires politicians to do something.”
Armstrong talked about how the Lance Armstrong Foundation began years ago in a Mexican restaurant in Texas, with the initial plan of addressing the stigma of testicular cancer. The crowd laughed as he talked about being a 25-year-old guy in Texas who “didn’t want to run around and tell everyone” about having testicular cancer. “I don’t know why, but that always gets a laugh,” he said. “You talk about Texas and testicular cancer and people laugh.”
Armstrong said the LAF’s initial big goal was getting information and diagrams on testicular and breast self-exams to be included back into Texas high school textbooks. That information had been excluded because it was found offensive at the time, he said.
“If you would have told us at the time in 1996, 1997 as we were starting that we would all be here in Dublin in 2009 with 500 people in the room, 65 countries represented, billions of dollars committed, we would have laughed you right out of that Mexican food restaurant,” he said. “But it’s reality, and we are all ? and I speak for myself and the entire team at the foundation ? we are all so proud that we’re here. We also know we have a lot of work to do. But we’re proud that we’ve got a great start.”
Experts estimate that some 28 million people live with cancer today. The LiveStrong Global Cancer Summit continues through Wednesday at the Royal Dublin Society. It is sponsored by an anonymous donor, with support from the American Cancer Society, Nike, EMD Serono, HomeAway and Genentech.