Presenter: Wayne Bucklar
Guest: Joe Tooma
Guest Bio: Mr. Joe Tooma has been Chief Executive Officer – Australian Cervical Cancer Foundation since 2008. Previously, he practiced as a Solicitor 1983-2003, Deputy President and President of Qld Law Society 2000 to 2002, CEO of Diabetes Australia- Qld 2003 to 2008 and Centenary Medal for Service to Australian Society and to the Law. He left legal practice to spend more time with wife and 2 kids now 8 and 11 years old. He keeps involvement with the law by volunteering at the QUT legal practice course.
Segment overview: In today’s segment, know more about the Australian Cervical Cancer Foundation. Founded in November 2007, it aims to provide free life-saving cervical cancer vaccine to girls in the developing world in places where cervical cancer is the leading cause of cancer death in women, like Nepal, Bhutan and other developing countries. ACCF also provides information, awareness and prevention programs and support to those affected by cervical cancer in Australia.
ACCF has won an award from Westpac in Brisbane for Business Excellence and International recognition from Public Affairs Asia Gold Standard Awards for the National Vaccination Partnership in Bhutan.
Health Professional Radio
Wayne Bucklar: You’re listening to Health Professional Radio. My name is Wayne Bucklar. And I’m joined today by Joe Tooma CEO of the Australian Cervical Cancer Foundation. Good morning to you Joe.
Joe Tooma: Good morning Wayne. Thanks very much.
W: Now Joe just before we come on air, we’re talking about the pronunciation of what I would call cervical. How is it commonly pronounced?
J: Look in Australia or English, the English sort of world it tends to be cervical (sur-vai-kal) cancer the medical people say but maybe for people staying in the US they tend to say cervical (ser-vi-kal) cancer. So we use either, most people know what we’re talking about it. It’s a very, very serious cancer for women and probably the biggest cancer killer of women in the developing world.
W: Now tell us a little bit about your association. What’s your geographic footprint? Are you only an Australian organization or do you have a broader footprint in that?
J: The Australian Cervical Cancer Foundation started back in the early 2008, not too long after Ian Frazer was credited with inventing the vaccine which can prevent Human Papilloma Virus and that cervical cancer and other cancers. The big issue for Ian was that in cases like the US and Australia and the UK, they could afford this vaccine which costs … It took a billion dollars to develop it. GSK and Merck developed it together and joined Ian with intellectual property of it. So it was gonna be okay for women in the western world, but for the developing world where about 90% of the women who died from cervical cancer are going to be, they would not afford to get it. So they decided Ian and some friend of it decided to try and established a foundation in Australia which would have the objective of getting the vaccine to developing world where they really need it the most. So that’s how it really started. So we are based in Australia but we work in the Asia pacific area generally Bhutan, Nepal, in Vietnam, Papua New Guinea, Solomon Islands, Philippines … that’s the area that we generally try to operate in. But also, we do a lot of work in Australia but we don’t have to deliver the cervical cancer vaccine or any screening or treatment in Australia because that’s all done by the government of course who is I think the first government in the world to introduce a national vaccination program for girls back in 2007. And last year 2014 introduced the vaccination program for boys and girls. So you know all, everybody who’s in about, they’re at school is eligible to have the vaccine if they’d like to have it.
W: And Joe forgive my ignorance here, is that vaccine just expected to eliminate the sort of cancer in those countries where it’s widely distributed like Australia?
J: Well effectively. Somewhere like Australia, they’re making some really good decisions in respective of vaccinating boys and girls. The vaccine is currently at stance, the one that … which is made by Merck and the other one which is made by … Effectively it’s the same effectiveness, the same vaccine really. And that will prevent between 70 and 80% of cervical cancer and other HPV related cancers. It specifically targets only a few of the actual Tots of HPV Tots, but they’re the one that causes 70 to 80% of cervical cancers and in the case of the … from Merck, it also covers virus that HPV Tots which will cause about 90% of genital warts as well. So yeah in Australia, if we’re vaccinating 75 to 80% of aborigines, 75 -80% of girls, within 20 years HPV related cancers are going to be very rare indeed which is wonderful. But in the developing world, that’s never gonna be certainly not in my lifetime – that’s never gonna be the case. There’s a lot of work to do there.
W: And is it predominantly a cost-related issue in the developing world or is it also on awareness related issue?
J: Well look, yeah that’s actually, thanks Wayne. That’s a really good point you make in that awareness. It doesn’t matter where you are, there is very, very little awareness whether it’s in Australia, the US and it really doesn’t matter whether you’re talking to educated people or uneducated people. Very few people know about the connection between HPV’s and cervical cancer and all the other HPV related cancers. So it is an awareness issue absolutely, but certainly for the developing world, it is very much a cost issue, there’s only a certain amount of medical resources available and there’s only a certain amount of financial resources available. And I guess if you’re in a developing country, you’ll probably gonna put most of your effort into making sure you’ve got clean water for people to drink rather than something like HPV vaccinations. Having said that, organizations such as the GAVI alliance, the Global Alliance for Vaccine and Immunization which is a partnership of World Bank, World Health Organization, Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and a lot of countries around the world, including the Australian government which they put money into it. They’re trying to make underutilized vaccines available at an affordable cost in developing countries where they’re really desperately need it. And the HPV vaccine is actually, I think about the 8 or 9th vaccine that they’ve generally made available at a subsidized rate and that was brought in about a year or so ago. So that’s actually making it much more sustainable and giving some very low income countries the opportunity to have the same vaccination program that those in Australia or the US or Europe are able to have. That’s been a wonderful system, it’s a wonderful organization and so saving lives through the use of vaccines.
W: It’s surprising how much good can be done when people having good intent get together. You’re listening to Wayne Bucklar on Health Professional Radio. And today I’m in conversation with Joe Tooma from the Australian Cervical Cancer Foundation. Joe I guess if people want to know more information, the best place they can go is to your website. That’s www.accf.org.au is that right?
J: Yeah, absolutely. We’d love them to go and have a look there at www.accf.org.au. And have a look what’s on there and get in touch with us if there’s any way that they feel we can assist them. Certainly in the developing countries where we’re working, we’d love to hear from government and hospitals and NGO’s who are working those countries to see what we can do to help them with potential vaccination programs or certainly the screening and treatment for women. The vaccinations are really important but they’re not gonna save the people’s lives for probably another 10 years but if we can screen the women in these countries too where basically no screening happens, if we can screen them only once between the age of 30 and 40, World Health Organization says we’ll reduce their risk of drying from cervical cancer by about 40% so that’s a really, really important one. And most women in most developing countries have never probably ever been screened. You’d probably find that if they lucky about 1% of women in the developing country would ever have the opportunity to have opportunity to be screen for cervical cancer. That’s a way of we’re gonna be saving girls’ lives. In fact thousands and thousands of girls’ lives in 10 or 15 years’ time because they’ve been vaccinated. We also need to look at the women today who are at risk of cervical cancer and HPV related cancers so what we can do to help them.
W: Now Joe, what practical contributions can people make to you?
J: Well it would be wonderful, we need all the support we can get in terms of donations of course. People are more than welcome to donate on our website. We’d love to make contact people who would like to collaborate in the countries that they’re working in. We find that’s the best way for things to happen. We obviously work with the ministry of health in every country, but if we can get a collaboration of health organizations, hospitals, NGO’s together – it’s a much more powerful opportunity. So we’d love to hear from people who would like to collaborate with us in terms of particularly screening and treatment of women, awareness rising of HPV related cancers and cervical cancer, and potentially organizing vaccination programs of that’s at all possible to do that. In Australia we have a very exciting program going at the moment. One of the things we find even though screening is available for women in Australia, in most developed countries on a regular basis, here in Australia we recommend that women should be screened every two years, between the ages of about 18 and 70. But so many of them don’t go for whatever reason 43% of women are not getting their regular screening. So we’re finding that about 90% of the cases of cervical cancer, we will see it will come out of that 43% they don’t get their regular screening. If we can pick it up early and as the Ian Frazer says, “Cervical cancer should be an entirely preventable disease.” So if we can pick it up early in places like Australia, it’s very, very easy to treat. But if it has peaked … it’s very difficult to treat. So we’ve got a wonderful program going called “Get the pap text” which is a little bit a play on words. But it’s the first time ever in the world that women can actually sign up, they go to our website, they can sign up to get a text reminder or an SMS reminder or an email reminder, when the next test is due. So we’d love women to go to our website and sign up for that. It takes about probably 30 seconds. And we’d love doctors and nurses to refer women to that website to make sure they do come back. Because what happens is a course of we have a completely paper based of our system for reminders for women this days and… that’s just not the technology people use these day if you move house often you get lost off the register, you change doctors or you move into state. So a lot of women are coming back simply because you know they forget, they haven’t got the reminder. Other causes, a couple a year’s goes by very quickly and by 3 to 4 to 5 years before they come back and think, “Oh gee it’s been a long time since I’ve had a pap test.” So pop onto our website www.accf.org.au sign up so they get the pap text, then we can send them a SMS or email reminder to your patients.
W: And for our nurses listening, we’d love you to refer your patients. But you know sometimes nurses are not the most diligent at looking out for their own healthcare, so you might look to just pop in there and add your own name while you’re referring your patient to that list. These are easy things to miss, so for all our nurses thank you for the referral but a little bit of self-referral might be in order here as well. Joe it’s splendid chatting you this morning. Yes, sorry go on.
J: Oh I’m just saying by all means just pop onto the website, try it out yourself and then you can say to people, “Yeah it’s a really quick and easy process and it works fines or if you find some trouble or with difficulties with it, get in touch and let us know.” That’s exactly what I’m gonna say. Try and when they’re convinces it’s a good opportunity and absolutely very helpful referring their own patients to go on to do the same thing. It’s not a replacement for the official system here Australia, it’s just a little bit extra that we’re now on the 21st century and it’s using 21st century technology. So thank you so much Wayne. It’s been wonderful to talk to you.
W: It’s been a pleasure having you on and I’ve enjoyed our conversation. Now we will have a transcript of this interview up on our website www.hpr.fm. We will also have this interview on our SoundCloud archive for anyone who’s interested in having a listen to it again or maybe you just caught the tail end of it here on the radio and you want to have a listen, you can go to that sound archive and get hold of it. You’ve been listening to Health Professional Radio, my name is Wayne Bucklar.