Abu Dhabi: The number of Abu Dhabi residents who seek bone marrow transplants abroad will be halved over the next two years, as patients avail advanced treatments and medical expertise.
Abu Dhabi saw its first donor paediatric bone marrow transplant only last month, but the number of such procedures performed locally is expected to keep growing. “Abu Dhabi is currently distinguished by the application of the highest standards used in the treatment of bone marrow transplantation, which are also followed in [advanced] medical centres abroad. Providing these distinguished services in the country makes it easier for us as specialists in this field to provide care for patients, while also allowing them to stay close to family and ensuring psychological support. This also reduces costs compared to treatment abroad,” said Dr Fatima Al Kaabi, director of the Abu Dhabi Bone Marrow Transplant Programme at the Abu Dhabi Stem Cell Center (ADSCC).
“During the next two years, with the presence of bone marrow transplants for children, we expect to reduce the request for treatment abroad for these cases by 50 per cent,” she added.
She was speaking at the first Emirates Paediatric Bone Marrow Transplant Congress, where 2,500 experts are discussing advances and challenges in the field.
The UAE saw its first bone marrow transplant in 2020 when a 49-year-old Pakistani with blood cancer — Abdullah Muhammad — was provided with the lifesaving treatment at Sheikh Khalifa Medical City in Abu Dhabi, in collaboration with ADSCC. The patient, a father of four, had stem cells harvested from his own blood and injected back into him after he underwent a short course of chemotherapy, in a procedure known as an autologous bone marrow transplant. Dr Al Kaabi had then called it a ‘milestone for the UAE’, adding that the country soon hoped to ‘take care of [its] own’.
This April, a five-year-old girl from Jordana with sickle cell disease, received a transplant with bone marrow donated by her ten-year-old sister. The procedure was carried out at the Burjeel Medical City (BMC) and hailed as another major milestone.
Patients come to UAE
Dr Zainul Aabideen, head of paediatric haematology and oncology consultant at BMC, and chairman of the Congress, also detailed another transplant that has been performed since in Abu Dhabi. The recipient, three-year-old Iraqi Ahmed Al Uqabi with thalassaemia, had travelled to the UAE for treatment. A picture shared by doctors showed a smiling child held by his mother after the procedure.
No need to travel abroad
“In the past, patients in the UAE needed to travel abroad in order to obtain treatment through bone marrow transplantation, which was a limited speciality. Now, after our success in performing stem cell transplant procedures in the UAE, there is new hope for many patients to obtain this treatment without the need to travel,” Dr Abedeen said.
Experts also discussed the challenges with financing care for complex paediatric conditions.
“The conference and the theme are critical and timely as they highlight significant improvements in the care and delivery of therapies for some of the complex diseases afflicting children around the world. Paediatric cancer care faces a perfect storm: An existing and expected increased incidence, growing numbers of survivors with ongoing care needs, and continued scientific advancements, offering remarkable promise, but often at extraordinary cost,” said Dr Shamsheer Vayalil, chairman and managing director at VPS Healthcare, which organised the Congress.
“Despite the promise of a lifelong cure, cell therapies can have estimated costs ranging from $100,000 (Dh367,000) to more than $1 million (Dh3.67 million). In addition to actual cost of the therapy, there is a cascade of costs with this therapy, including supportive care, intensive and extensive hospital care and potential downstream cancer care,” he added.
VPS, a UAE-based health-care provider, is currently working with international experts at the Lancet Commission, an international health research platform, to manage the cost and consequences of paediatric cancer.