Pharmacy Faculty Member Provides Oncology Expertise in Africa

Diana Tamer worked with the African Access Initiative, which is targeting the cancer crisis in Africa
Diana Tamer in School of Pharmacy

For Diana Tamer, Pharm.D., oncology is a calling. What fuels her passion for treating cancer comes from diverse places – from her first oncology patient to the health-care workers she trained in the Ivory Coast.

Her expertise in oncology pharmacy presented her with a unique opportunity last summer to train health-care workers in Africa through BIO Ventures for Global Health’s (BVGH) African Access Initiative. The initiative targets the growing cancer crisis in Africa by connecting international experts to health-care providers in Africa. By expanding access to provider expertise, the goal is to empower African health-care professionals to provide high-quality oncology care across the patient population.

Tamer initially signed on to deliver an online lecture on oncology to health-care providers across Africa. As an expert in the field, creating an oncology lecture is old hat for her, but this particular training was a bit more complicated — it needed to be in French, the official language of several countries in Africa. Thankfully, Tamer grew up speaking French in her native country of Lebanon, but she hadn’t spoken the language regularly for many years. It would normally take her 20 hours to put together a new lecture. This ended up taking about 60.

Although preparing the training would take a lot of work, Tamer had the full support of her colleagues in the Division of Pharmacy Practice and Administration. When she approached the chair of the department, Cameron Lindsey, Pharm.D., with the opportunity, Lindsey thought it was meant for Tamer.

“The opportunity was perfectly matched for someone with Tamer’s expertise and her ability to communicate, coupled with her longstanding passion as an educator and pharmacist,” Lindsey said. “Her local and national impact on cancer prevention, screening and treatment is well known, and it enabled the training of so many people across the globe while elevating the health of patients in the region.”

Nearly 150 health-care providers, including nurses, oncologists, physicians and pharmacists from 27 African countries attended the online lecture. Tamer’s lecture lasted an hour and 15 minutes, but she stayed on the call for another 90 minutes answering questions.

“They were really thirsty for knowledge, and they really wanted to make a difference,” Tamer said. “When you see that as a professor, it makes you want to give even more.”

In preparing for the lecture, Tamer began to see an alarming trend in these African countries that spoke to what she is passionate about in health care.

“Cervical cancer rates are high in Africa,” Tamer said. “It’s killing a lot of women. Young women with kids and families —and it breaks my heart.”

From that point forward, Tamer was all in. There was an in-person training already scheduled in the Ivory Coast in July 2023, and she wanted to help out. To make that happen, she cut short a vacation to Lebanon.

Tamer outside hospital

“I am in academia because I feel that I can impact more cancer patients by passing on my knowledge to my students,” Tamer said. “I’ve always dreamt of helping places that lack access to high quality health care, so this was an opportunity of a lifetime. I was going to do everything to make it happen.”

For the in-person training, Tamer worked for weeks in tandem with BVGH and a fellow oncology pharmacist in Canada, Charles Collin. The three worked together for weeks developing the specialized training. They went separately to the Ivory Coast, with Collin traveling to Africa first, and Tamer and the BVGH team arriving two weeks later. They communicated frequently during Collin’s time in the Ivory Coast, and soon realized their training would need to be drastically reworked.

“As soon as Charles got on the ground, we realized what the situation was there,” Tamer said. “They wanted us to advance clinical pharmacy services, but basic pharmacy services needed to be developed first.”

Over the next two weeks, she reworked the entire training to outline many of the best practices that are the norm in oncology pharmacy and infusion centers in the United States. From doctor-pharmacist communication to safety measures handling oncology medications, Tamer went over everything that health-care professionals expect in a modern clinical oncology pharmacy setting.

Once she arrived in the Ivory Coast, she presented training to 20 health-care workers eight hours a day for three straight days.

“I’ve never talked this long in my life,” Tamer said. “Typically, on the days I teach for a few hours at UMKC, I am wiped out for the rest of the day.”

But Tamer was not done after the day-long training. Once she finished lecturing, she spent her evenings tweaking her teachings with things she learned that day. She toured facilities, including hospitals, cancer center and pharmacy. As time went on, the health-care providers started opening up to Tamer, providing her with a more complete picture of where their health-care system stands. On her last day, the doctors on site invited her to present her findings and outline how they could work at the government and hospital level to fill in the gaps they have compared to modern clinical pharmacy practice in countries like the United States.

Tamer continues to work with the BVGH team to develop and complete a post-visit report exploring opportunities for improved oncology pharmacy services there as well as improved cancer patient treatments and outcomes.

Tamer’s hard work is much appreciated by the health care workers who took her training, like Dr. Eunice Adouko, a pharmacist at the Alassane Ouattara National Radiotherapy Center in the Ivory Coast

“BIO Ventures for Global Health’s oncology pharmacy training has been a high-quality initiative to improve the knowledge and skills of pharmacists, practitioners, technicians, and nurses in cancer centers,” Adouko said. “Thanks to Dr. Diana Tamer and Charles Collin, we now have excellent resources in terms of cancer treatment.”

When Tamer began her oncology career at AdventHealth Shawnee Mission Cancer Center in 2017, her passion for the field took root with her first two patients. On her first day at the center, Tamer had two patients begin treatment for cervical cancer. The two women were in their early 30s, and Tamer developed a close bond with both. One of the women would go on to survive, but the second patient did not. Tamer treated the latter for four years, trying non-traditional clinical treatments and pushing to get her patient in sought-after clinical trials. This was at the height of the COVID pandemic when many health-care workers were under incredible stress.

“Before she died, she told me, ‘Promise me you will never quit what you are doing, and you will continue to make a difference in people’s lives,’” Tamer said. “I did promise her that, and I told her that people like her make me want to continue doing what I’m doing despite all of the challenges.

“And that’s what drove me to go to help in Africa as well.”

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Published: Feb 5, 2024

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