Vikash Sewram

All cancer expert Professor Vikash Sewram wants to do is to minimise the devastating cost to human life, to give people hope and to put a smile on their faces.

And that is why he is taking up the top job at the newly established African Cancer Institute (ACI), which will conduct high-level research to improve prevention, diagnosis and management of cancer in Africa.

It is the first of its kind in South Africa and was launched recently.

Sewram is based in Durban at the Department of General Surgery, the Nelson Mandela School of Medicine, the University of KZN, and he is also on the Medical Research Council. But he will move to Stellenbosch University’s Faculty of Medicine and Health Sciences to embark on the next phase of his journey “to do more”.

He aims to “step up action against cancer and mobilise our resources like I have never been able to do before”.

The ACI will look at what is needed to curb the rising epidemic of cancer, which could be a “huge tsunami” by 2030.

“Cancer has a human face and it is never one of happiness, but one of sadness,” Sewram said.

“Mention the word cancer and people think it is a death sentence. But there is hope for patients and support for their families.

“The treatment is now more effective and people are living longer,” said Sewram, who is also chairman of the Ministerial Advisory Committee on Cancer Prevention and Control, Director of the Oncology Research Unit and Director of the Cancer Research Initiative of South Africa.

The idea of the ACI is to bring together the best minds and streamline research and to bring everything under one umbrella, he explained.

“By pooling our resources and not working in silos, we can do more. There are certain areas of research that we don’t know all the answers to and we need to explore those.”

The aim of the ACI is to be a champion for combating cancer in Africa; to become an internationally recognised comprehensive cancer research centre, conducting and co-ordinating multidisciplinary research relevant to the continent. Research will span prevention, screening, early detection, diagnosis, treatment and palliative care.

Its focus will include developing cost-effective and readily available diagnostic and prognostic technologies, discovering new therapies, enhancing current ones, improving risk profiling and increasing the technical skills of scientists, clinicians and other health-care professionals.

“There is a shortage of oncologists in the country and most are in the private sector. We have got to get a larger pool,” Sewram said.

The ACI has signed a memorandum of understanding with the prestigious University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Centre – the world’s best cancer centre – which will result in joint initiatives.

Sewram predicts the ACI “will become a beacon of hope” in the fight against cancer.