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Leukaemia leading cancer among children in UAE

Multiple new chemotherapy drugs hold promise of remission in leukaemia

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  • Euale Mengsitu Besir with Ayesha Shahdad who heads up Al Jalila Foundation A'awen programImage Credit:
Gulf News

Dubai: Three-year-old Euale Mengsitu Beshir is a poster child for international day of childhood cancer which is being observed on February 15.

A year ago, Beshir lost his appetite and had high fever and was diagnosed with acute myeloid leukaemia. He underwent aggressive chemotherapy protocol at the oncology centre of Dubai Hospital with Al Jalila Foundation sponsoring his treatment under their A’waen programme. Beshir’s leukaemia is in remission and his parents are thrilled with the outcome.

According to studies, cancer is the third leading cause of death in the UAE following heart disease and accidents. Twelve people are diagnosed with cancer every day or nearly 4,400 cases every year. Among all cancer cases in the UAE, approximately 9.5 per cent are paediatric cancer.

Leukaemia accounts for almost one in every three cancer cases in children here and the World Health Organisation predicts a rise in childhood cancers in the country.

Dr Abdul Rahman Mohammad Saleh Al Jasmi, an authority on childhood cancer in the UAE and CEO of Dubai Hospital where Beshir was treated, told Gulf News: “In the UAE, almost 40 new cases of childhood cancers per million are being diagnosed every month and blood cancers in children have the highest incidence. These include both acute lymphoblastic leukaemia and acute myeloid leukaemia.”

Dr Al Jasmi advised parents to go in for early diagnosis of anything abnormal they might see in their children. “If a child is listless, has fever that goes undiagnosed for long, parents must immediately go for second and third line of diagnosis and consult specialists. In the eighties nearly 80 per cent children diagnosed with leukaemia succumbed to it but the new chemotherapy protocol has eight drugs instead of two and has been very successful in getting children into remission.”

Referring to Beshir’s treatment, Dr Al Jasmi said the boy underwent five cycles of chemotherapy lasting six weeks. “Of course, there were breaks and his blood work was done after each cycle and his immunity was monitored. I am happy to say the little child’s cancer is in remission.”

Dr Al Jasmi also said that a complete chemotherapy treatment for cancer cost anywhere between Dh150,000 and Dh200,000 and was covered by most health insurances.

Foundation’s great help

To date, Al Jalila Foundation has invested Dh7.5 million for treating 86 cancer patients from the ages of two to 90 and invested Dh9 million into 33 cancer research programmes.

A spokesperson said the foundation was dedicated to funding research vital to decrease the incidences of paediatric cancer and, ultimately, finding a cure. With the help and engagement of the community, Al Jalila Foundation is enabled to improve the lives of children in the UAE.

Mengsitu Beshir Shere, an executive working in the labour department, told Gulf News that he and his wife, Sawnat, were devastated when Euale was diagnosed with Leukaemia. “Euale is our second child and we do not have any family history of leukaemia so we were very stunned by his diagnosis. I am thankful that Al Jalila Foundation stepped in to bear the cost of his treatment. Our lives have been forever changed and we are so grateful that our beautiful boy has regained his health and is full of energy again.”