Alpha, Bravo…Cancer

Malek Nejjai

Chief Diversity Officer, Amadeus IT Group

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On Sunday 20th September 2015, Amadeus colleagues from our R&D site in Nice, France will be participating in the Odyssea race taking place in Cannes to raise funds for breast cancer research. Let’s all support this great initiative so that, as the late reporter from The Times and BBC John Diamond wrote,  “Cancer is a word, not a sentence.”


Those of us working in the travel industry are familiar with the Alpha, Bravo, Charlie, … way of spelling. This international and homogenized spelling alphabet, was originally devised in 1950 by the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) to ensure that critical combinations of letters and numbers could be pronounced and used for radio transmission regardless of language barriers.

Actually the “C” for Charlie, could easily have been “C” for cancer: it’s a universal word and unfortunately, we all have a friend, a colleague or a relative who has or is fighting this sly and scary disease. It is ruthless: it doesn’t spare any society; it doesn’t know any borders and it has no mercy. And, although it is not taboo anymore, the malaise is certainly still present as nobody feels comfortable talking about it or writing about it. I don’t either, but I have to… because we all think and hope “it will not happen to me”.

Data from the Cancer Research Organizationin the UK reveals that an estimated 169.3 million years of healthy life were lost globally because of cancer in 2008. In 2012 only, there were an estimated 14.1 million new cases of cancer in the world; a figure that is expected to rise by about 70% over the next 2 decades.

The figures are definitely staggering and certainly cause distress but there are definitely some encouraging developments in the fight against cancer. The robust and powerful pharmaceutical industry has invested more than USD 135 billion in R&D according to the International Federation of Pharmaceutical Manufacturers and Associations (IFPMA). In the EU, the R&D of the pharmaceutical sector compared to other high-technology industries is five time greater than the aerospace and defense industries; 4.5 times more than the chemical industry and 2.5 times more than the software and computer service industry (EU R&D scoreboard 2011).

Progress in oncology has been remarkable in recent decades and the future looks encouraging. The industry is working very hard and investing millions in cancer drugs and new treatments: the IFPMA 2011 report indicates that the number of drugs in development for cancer reached 948; almost 4 times more than for cardiovascular disorders.

It is also important to note that business travel plays a role in this effort. It could involve sending a researcher to the Amazon to find new extracts from jungle plants or a chemist to a production factory in Asia. It could also include sending a representative to a medical association conference in the US or supporting a salesman as he visits general practitioners around the country.

But travel also plays a key role for the patient and his or her family: medical trips for treatments or second opinions from specialists; friends’ and relatives’ visits; psychological retreats and vacations. It is indeed a long and painful journey.

All the above is scientific, extremely critical and even vital sometimes. However there are no surveys, figures or reports about attitude towards cancer; and as Winston Churchill said: “Attitude is a little thing that makes a big difference.” And the best attribute to reinforce attitude is solidarity…

Going back to the International Civil Aviation Organization spelling, for me Cancer is spelled with “h” for hope and “s” for solidarity.