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Everyone deserves the cancer care they need, no matter who they are or where they live. Healthcare organisations in the UAE join the global community in uniting voices to take action in closing the cancer care gap

There have been several breakthroughs in cancer care over the years — from sophisticated diagnostics to innovative therapies, immunotherapies and precision medicines. While they offer new hope for some, the advances in cancer treatment remain out of reach for many.

The Union for International Cancer Control created World Cancer Day on February 4, 2000 to raise public awareness about cancer symptoms, ensure early detection and treatment, and encourage elected representatives to commit ample resources to reduce cancer mortality. It was also initiated to educate people about the considerable risk that bad lifestyle choices could have on being diagnosed with cancer. Therefore, the 2023 campaign theme, Close the Care Gap focuses on equity and accessibility.

Closing the care gap and addressing inequities in cancer care are essential to reduce disparities in cancer outcomes. This is achieved through initiatives that enhance access to quality care while simultaneously reducing the financial burden for patients and their families.

“At Burjeel Holdings, we provide new treatment modalities that are available for the first time in the UAE,” says Prof. Humaid Al Shamsi, Consultant and Director of Oncology Services, Burjeel Holdings. “We are closing the gap by making it easier for patients to get advanced treatments such as bone marrow transplants for adults and paediatric patients.”

The healthcare company has BRAINLAB, a state-of-the-art radiation machine to treat brain cancers. It has also published the book, Cancer in the Arab World to make science and knowledge accessible in the region. “We look forward to using our world-class research capabilities to advance care in the UAE,” says Prof. Al Shamsi. “We are also the only comprehensive network for cancer care across the UAE by reaching out to patients to make it easier for them to be treated near home. The availability of 24/7 ER with oncology experience to handle the urgent needs of our patients and direct communication with the team are increasing access to care. Having clinics across the UAE to facilitate the treatment near home is making a real difference.”

Receiving a cancer diagnosis can be frightening. Navigating the complexities of treatment and the impact of the disease on a person’s life is a challenging and daunting prospect for both healthcare providers as well as patients. Cancer management, including supportive care is complex and requires availability and synthesis of published and patient-specific data to make appropriate therapeutic decisions.

“During the evolution of cancer care, the major development we have seen is individualised treatment and organ conservation,” says Dr Sivaprakash Rathanaswamy, Consultant, Surgical Oncology, Aster Hospital, Qusais. “Thanks to the research work in molecular oncology and genetics, we can now identify the subset of patients to whom we can give aggressive chemotherapy, targeted therapy, immunotherapy or less aggressive hormone therapy, or patients who just need to be kept under observation.”

Dr Rathanaswamy further explains that doctors can now identify chances of recurrence or metastasis and prognosis of patients along with genetic counselling for familiar cancers.

“Technology such as robotic surgery and precision radiotherapy have made less aggressive conservative surgeries possible without much morbidity and ensures good quality of life and better cancer cure,” he says.

Healthcare professionals are called to provide patient-centred care in an environment where they listen to patients’ goals and desires and support patient autonomy. However, heeding that call requires patient participation to help them voice their needs and concerns. Since some may be reluctant to speak up, experts within the oncology space also emphasise on the importance of self-advocacy for patients throughout their diagnosis and treatment.

“We also need patients to join hands with us to advocate for early screening and highlight how cancer can be successfully treated when diagnosed early,” says Dr Al Shamsi.