Statement on COVID-19 from the European Cancer Organisation’s Board of Directors

17 March 2020
'Attention is urgently required to protect cancer patients and preserve Europe’s healthcare professional, scientific and patient societies'


The Board of Directors of the European Cancer Organisation has released the following statement on the ongoing measures being taken across Europe to manage the developing situation connected to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The statement gives particular attention to the growing impact of COVID-19 upon the treatment of cancer patients, as well as the impact of the present situation upon the functioning of Europe’s scientific, healthcare professional education and patient association sector.

Commenting on the statement, Dr Matti Aapro, President of the European Cancer Organisation said: “Now is a moment of global urgency that is providing the most testing circumstances for healthcare systems. While Governments, healthcare professionals and the public are rising to the challenge, it is time for serious discussion about the impacts of the current situation upon treatment and care for cancer patients, and upon the financial sustainability of Europe’s productive sector of scientific, healthcare professional education and patient associations.

The Board of Directors of the European Cancer Organisation has therefore issued an urgent statement for the purpose of promoting prompt attention to these matters.

Along with other areas of care, we note from reports received by our members, that the COVID-19 situation is creating a growing problem in respect to shortage of materials that are key to delivering quality of care to patients. This includes reports of shortages of face masks, respiratory devices and sanitising product. Resolving these shortages must be at the highest level of attention for all governmental structures for pandemic management at this time.

The statement also seeks to ensure prompt action is taken to preserve the vital educational activity of Europe’s scientific, healthcare professional and patient association sector in the wake of the major disruption being prompted by COVID-19. Cancellation and postponement of so many education Congresses and major international events can clearly not occur without adverse impact for both the budgetary positions of the organising associations and the advancement of science and education. However, with targeted relief measures, much potential long term damage could be avoided.

The proposals for economic redress build upon suggestions for a European Not-for-Profit Funding Framework provided in the European Cancer Organisation’s recent response to the Roadmap consultation on Europe’s Beating Cancer Plan.

We will be seeking urgent discussion of our proposals with the European Commission, MEPs and National Ministries.”

The European Cancer Organisation is an umbrella federation of 28 European and international level societies working with 17 patient advocacy organisations to improve cancer care and outcomes in all countries.

The Board of Directors of the European Cancer Organisation has responsibility for defining the strategy and policies of the Associatio


CALL 1: The need for every citizen and organisation to continue fulfilling their obligations

The Board of Directors of the European Cancer Organisation applauds the global cooperation underway in respect to managing the COVID-19 pandemic.

The European Cancer Organisation underlines the need at global, national, regional and individual level to sustain these efforts and for all to ensure they are doing their part in maintaining the highest levels of cooperation.

CALL TO THE PUBLIC: To maintain the operational abilities of health systems at this time, the European Cancer Organisation emphasises to all citizens and organisations their responsibility for continued adherence to government advice about the actions they should take to reduce the risk of infection and to help slow rates of transmission.
Every one of us has a responsibility to each other to respect official advice at this time. COVID-19 is a test of our abilities as individuals, organisations and countries to cooperate and share information with each other effectively. We urge all to continue to rise to this challenge.

The minds of organisations and professionals working in the cancer sector are especially attentive and focused on COVID-19, knowing that evidence suggests a vulnerability for complications for for older people with underlying health conditions such as chronic lung disease, cardiovascular disease, diabetes, chronic kidney disease - and cancer that is not cured or in remission. This includes*:

  • People having chemotherapy, or who have received chemotherapy in the last 3 months
  • People having immunotherapy or other continuing antibody treatments for cancer
  • People having other targeted cancer treatments which can affect the immune system, such as protein kinase inhibitors
  • People having intensive (radical) radiotherapy for lung cancer
  • People who have had bone marrow or stem cell transplants in the last 6 months, or who are still taking immunosuppression drugs
  • People with some types of blood cancer which damage the immune system, even if they have not needed treatment (for example, chronic leukaemia, lymphoma or myeloma).

    * Source:

CALL 2: The need for attention to the impacts of the present situation on cancer care

For the membership community of the European Cancer Organisation, much attention is obviously devoted to how we preserve the highest standards of care and treatment to cancer patients during this time.

Impacts from COVID-19 that are being reported to us from across Europe include evident shortage of core materials for providing sustained, safe and high quality cancer care. This includes face masks, respiratory support devices and some sanitising products, such as hand disinfectant. For the present time, we understand that where such shortage situations are occurring, health systems are creating means of managing the situation by redistribution of such supplies from lower risk settings to priority areas, such as intensive care and oncology units. However, any further diminishment of supply threatens to considerably compromise quality of care for cancer patients and others.

CALL TO NATIONAL GOVERNMENTS AND THE EU: EU and national level emergency planning structures now in place for management of the COVID-19 pandemic must direct the most urgent attention towards resolution of reported shortage of critical healthcare equipment such as face masks, respiratory support devices and sanitising products such as hand disinfectant. This is critical to ensure maintained quality of care for ALL patients in our healthcare systems during this period.

Beyond this, with cancer patients who are undergoing active treatment (chemotherapy, radiation or surgery) known to be at an elevated risk for complications from the COVID-19 infection, it is of clear importance that health systems ensure:

  • Prompt screening of patients in care for COVID-19;
  • Rigorous implementation of guidelines across the health system in respect to such matters as quarantining and maintenance of high standards in hygiene; and,
  • Continuous, clear and high quality communication to healthcare professionals and the public about the ongoing situation

CALL 3: The need to protect and preserve the vitality of Europe’s scientific, healthcare professional and patient association sector

Without seeking any detraction from the urgent work of authorities in ensuring COVID-19 management measures are robustly put in place, the Board of Directors of the European Cancer Organisation seeks to launch discussion about how best to mitigate some of the other long term impacts of these measures, including widescale postponing and cancellation of international scientific, healthcare professional education and patient association events

Across Europe, important scientific congresses, education and training events are being cancelled or postponed in order to assist the international response to COVID-19. While the necessity of doing so is recognised, these educational conferences and events are nonetheless essential to promoting uptake of best practice and advancing new science to the benefit of patients and citizens across the world. So in all cases, organisers have made cancellation and postponement decisions with heavy hearts but in the knowledge that it is the right and proper call to make at this time.

However, it is now time to consider the best means of ensuring that COVID-19 management measures can continue to be enacted without inflicting severe long term damage to both the underpinnings of Europe’s scientific and healthcare professional education success, and, most importantly, the ongoing improvement of patient care in the decades ahead.

Release Health Programme and other funding to cushion the financial shock of COVID-19

Many sectors of the European economy are undergoing significant negative impact as a result of COVID-19. These sectors include the tourism and aviation industries, who, it may be noted, are also significant beneficiaries of Europe’s position as a global provider of scientific and healthcare professional education events. Government interventions are already underway to support the economic preservation of these sectors. Within the context of this already live discussion on COVID-19 economic relief measures, the destructive impact of so many major event cancellations upon the sustainability of Europe’s healthcare professional, scientific and patient societies must also be recognised. Large educational congresses and conferences are a financial lifeblood for many.

We therefore urge that meaningful measures be introduced to preserve the strength of Europe’s scientific, healthcare professional and patient association community and ensure continuing high quality continuing education opportunity.

CALL TO EUROPEAN UNION DECISION-MAKERS: The Board of Directors of the European Cancer Organisation requests that Europe’s healthcare professional, scientific and patient societies impacted by conference cancellation and postponement during the COVID-19 pandemic be made eligible for forms of relief and support funding.

Such a relief package would offer a lifeline to some, and also enable minimisation of interruption to the valuable functions and services towards the patient benefit that is conducted by all. It would demonstrate a lasting solidarity between the EU and the scientific, healthcare professional and patient community in ensuring uninterrupted delivery of improving patient outcomes, undiminished by COVID-19.

The European Union can rely upon Europe’s healthcare professional, scientific and patient societies to serve its ambitions on health policy, including in respect to delivering the aspirations of the emergent EU Cancer Mission and Europe’s Beating Cancer Plan.

Europe’s healthcare professional, scientific and patient societies can also be depended on to play full roles in onward communication of relevant important breaking information about COVID-19, and other European cross-border health threats, to their members and the wider public. The utmost cooperation and energy is also being committed by such associations to supporting the urgent research needs, and practice and behaviour changes highlighted by COVID-19.

We trust, in return, that the EU can also be depended on to provide support to Europe’s healthcare professional, scientific and patient societies in facing this most challenging, unprecedented and unexpected periods of financial disruption to their operating models.

We seek the urgent attention of relevant EU and national decision-makers to the issues and proposals raised in this statement.

This statement is being shared with: the European Commissioner for Health and Food Safety; the European Commissioner for Research, Science and Innovation; Health and Science Ministers of EU Member States, Members of the European Parliament and relevant officials of the European Commission.