World Cancer Day: The power of collective action in using law to address cancer

Thursday 4 February, 2021
by Hayley Jones, Acting Director
Hayley Jones at World Cancer Leaders' Summit 2019
McCabe Centre Acting Director Hayley Jones (left) at the 2019 World Cancer Leaders' Summit with Shelley Burich (centre), then CEO of Samoa Cancer Society, and Carmen Auste, Founder of Cancer Warriors Foundation of the Philippines 

Back in 2019, only weeks after I took over as the McCabe Centre’s Acting Director, I travelled around the world and back again for a crash course in the global cancer control community.

I first flew from Melbourne to Manila, Philippines for a meeting of McCabe Centre alumni. There, I met an outstanding group lawyers and policymakers who – with support from the McCabe Centre – were working to advance cancer control laws locally. Though they came from various sectors of government and civil society, they each played their role in tackling cancer in the Philippines and were keen to share their experiences with others. I even got to see their impact first-hand in my Manila hotel room, where I received a note about the hotel’s new smoke-free policy – a result of one of our alumni’s efforts.

Just weeks later I was on the move again, flying to Nur-Sultan, Kazakhstan to represent the McCabe Centre at the 2019 World Cancer Leaders’ Summit, run by one of our founding partners: the Union for International Cancer Control (UICC). At the summit, I met an eclectic and impressive range of cancer leaders and advocates working in dramatically different contexts. But whether their aim was to improve palliative care in the poorest communities of East Africa, or increase access to cancer care in the remote regions of Mongolia, they were all committed to working together to reduce the burden of cancer around the world.

Those first two events were a bit of a whirlwind – so many names to remember and flights to catch. But meeting and learning from these leaders showed me the collective power of the cancer control community, and taught me the secret behind the outsized global impact achieved by our small McCabe Centre team: our strong partnerships.

And so I think it’s appropriate that the theme for this year’s World Cancer Day, which also happens to be the McCabe Centre’s ninth birthday, is “ Together, all our actions matter.” 

Our strong foundation of partnerships

Hayley Jones, Acting Director

When we say that partnerships are part of the McCabe Centre’s foundation, we mean it literally. We are a joint initiative of three partners – Cancer Council VictoriaUICC, and  Cancer Council Australia – and their unique expertise has shaped our work immensely since our founding in 2012. 

We’ve also built other key relationships along the way. Thanks to a collaboration with the World Health Organization (WHO) Western Pacific Regional Office, we became the WHO Collaborating Centre on Law and Noncommunicable Disease in 2018. We also partnered with the Secretariat of the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC) in 2014 to become a Knowledge Hub on legal challenges to the convention.

Our partners at Australia’s Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT) and Department of Health have been huge supporters of our capacity building programs, allowing us to build our world-renowned International Legal Training Program. And through that program, we have joined forced with more than 200 lawyers and policymakers from 70 low and middle-income countries – known as McCabe Centre alumni – helping them advance policies to prevent cancer and other noncommunicable disease (NCD) back home.

What we have achieved together

Because we work so collaboratively with the broader cancer control community, our successes are always shared.

Take the big win for Australia’s tobacco plain packaging laws in June 2020, when the World Trade Organization Appellate Body struck down the tobacco industry’s last remaining legal challenge. The McCabe Centre has been working since our founding to help strengthen and defend Australia’s plain packaging laws and guide other countries as they implement similar cancer prevention measures.

But our efforts were informed throughout by our colleagues at Cancer Council, whose world-class research on standardised tobacco packaging and behavioural science contributed to the evidence base to counter arguments from tobacco companies. Working with Australia, the other Parties to the WHO FCTC and the WHO FCTC Secretariat has been essential to exchanging the lessons that we have each learned from taking on the tobacco industry. And of course our work was meant to empower the governments in Australia and around the world who bravely passed these laws and fought valiantly to defend them.

Then there are the accomplishments of our alumni network, which include enacting laws and regulations in at least 19 countries, and successfully defending laws in at least six. And while we aren’t beside them physically in their countries’ courtrooms or legislatures, we are proud to stand with our alumni whenever they need technical support or guidance.

Alumni impact

Working collectively for the future

It’s strange these days to write about travelling during my early days as Acting Director. With the ongoing pandemic, I’m not sure when our many cancer control partners will meet in person again. But after many videoconferences and virtual meetings over the past year, I can confidently say that our connections with partners remain strong, as does our collective resolve to reduce the burden of cancer.

These new technologies have, in many ways, brought us even closer together. By harnessing the power of virtual learning, the McCabe Centre has shifted our training and capacity building programs online, allowing us to share knowledge with more than 200 lawyers, policymakers, alumni and other key stakeholders just in the past year.

The need for collective action was also reinforced this year when we gathered case studies from our alumni that showed the value of multisectoral coordination to address cancer and other NCDs. And cooperation with diverse partners will be more important than ever during and after a pandemic that has reminded the world how connected our health is.

So on World Cancer Day 2021, as we reflect on the McCabe Centre’s first nine years, we are also firmly focused to the future. In the spirit of World Cancer Day’s ‘ I am and I will’ campaign, we make this commitment to our amazing partners, from the lawyers standing up to tobacco giants, to the public health workers keeping people healthy:

We are the McCabe Centre for Law & Cancer, and we will continue to empower you to use law to achieve a world free from preventable cancers, and where everyone has equitable access to treatment and care.

What our partners say

Danielle Spence

Head of Strategy and Support Division, Cancer Council Victoria

"Without borders or discrimination, cancer has been our common enemy the world over. It’s only been in recent decades through global partnerships and collective action that we’ve made great strides in the prevention, early detection and treatment of cancer."

Jekee Bryan T. Miraflor

Regular, Food and Drug Administration, Philippines; McCabe Centre alumnus

"We as a community have made great strides in cancer research as well as putting up legislation, policies, and programs that aim to lessen the cancer burden worldwide. These achievements wouldn't have been possible without people from all walks of life, offering different perspectives, and working towards a common end-goal."

Kenji López Cuevas

Lawyer; Founder & Director, Cancer Warriors of Mexico; Board Member, UICC

"We are fighters from different regions around the world. Our culture is different, however, in the diversity of our origin is the wealth that used together can be the most powerful weapon for the enemy we have in common: cancer."

Davi Bressler

Attorney for Brazil; McCabe Centre alumnus

“I have worked in a lot of fields – in different subjects, fields and themes – and I never encountered a group of people that is so willing to help each other as the tobacco control community. There is so much knowledge and help available. It’s truly unique.”


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