Dubai: Cancer incidence in the Middle East region including the UAE is on the rise with the number of cases expected to double by 2030, according to the World Health Organisation (WHO).

In the UAE alone, according to the last figures released by the Health Department of Abu Dhabi, there are 4,500 new cases of cancer each year with breast, colorectal and lung cancers acquiring top spots.

According to the key performance indicators on cancer provided in the National Health Agenda 2021, based on the 2013 figures provided by the WHO, cancers claim 78 deaths per 100,000 people. The target for 2021 is to reduce the mortality rate (by 18 per cent) to 64.2 deaths per 100,000 people.

Not all countries are equal in terms of resources and resolve in combating cancer rise in the region and the War on Cancer Middle East conference held in Dubai this week focused on the main challenges to putting a proper blueprint in place to fight the scourge.

Speaking at the conference, Vivek Muthu, chief adviser of the Economist Intelligence Unit that organised the event, cautioned that a proper and well-thought strategy for documenting data, preventive screening, sustainable financing, quality treatment protocols and high standards of palliative care were required to be established to get safe and successful patient outcomes.

Muthu was presiding the third edition of the conference which was first held in Hong Kong in 2015.

“Obesity, poor awareness of cancer, environment, bad lifestyle choices and cultural issues like fatalism are some of the challenges of cancer in the region and we have to remember three things — system, sustainability and outcome — which are the three most important tools in this war,” said Muthu as he opened the daylong conference with a panel discussion with specialists from the region.

Dina Mired, head of the Union for International Cancer Control, highlighted a number of challenges faced by the region during the panel discussion. “There have been 555,000 new cancer cases and 330,000 mortalities since 2012 in the region which has highly developed countries and some poverty-ridden nations facing the additional burden of the refugee crisis as well. The number is set to double by 2030, according to the World Health Organisation (WHO). Over 70 per cent of the people in the region are dying of cancer and we need to meet the challenge by dealing scientifically with it.”

Mired pointed out that there were no cancer registries in the region which indicated an abysmal lack of solid data on the disease, making comparative or individual analysis difficult. “According to the WHO, nearly nine out of 22 countries in the region have no operational facilities to deal with cancer, only 13 countries have a semblance of operational registries, two have some strategy for palliative care in cancer and we see patients in advanced stages of cancer dying in sheer agony. Only 12 out of 22 countries have a policy to give oral morphine to manage pain and many of them are struggling to provide the basic chemo radiation and treatment.”

Joseph William Asseily, head of the Children’s Cancer Centre of Lebanon, said cancer in many children could be prevented by protecting them from passive smoking, using of safe pesticides, protecting them from harsh solar heat and providing them preventive screening but nothing was being done.

Nisreen Qatamis, director-general of the King Hussain Cancer Foundation, one of the leading cancer hospitals of the region, said that it was important for governments of all leading countries of the region to provide affordable cancer care to the people and provide them health insurance that covered the high cost of quality treatment protocols.

“The burden of cancer care is huge on every country as there is a need for preventive screening, early detection and availability of latest treatments. So governments need to look at taxing tobacco, sugar and other harmful carcinogenic products. The money raised from these taxes can provide an innovative and sustainable solution to the cost of cancer care,” Qatamis said.

The Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health released ‘The Health Systems in Action: Breast Cancer in the Middle East’ (HIBA) report at the conference. Conducted by researchers from the public health school, in collaboration with country experts, the HIBA study is the first of its kind to address the unique realities of breast cancer care in the region and provides evidence-based policy options to optimise future breast cancer outcomes for patients.

Cancer incidence in the UAE

According to statistics released by the Health Department of Abu Dhabi, there are approximately 4,500 new cases of cancer reported every year in the UAE. In 2012, cancer was the third leading cause of deaths in Abu Dhabi.

The UAE is determined to bring down cancer fatalities by nearly 18 per cent by 2021. Reducing the number of deaths due to cancer is one of the key performance indicators in the UAE National Agenda 2021.

Dr Muna Al Kuwari, director of Specialised Care Management, the UAE Ministry of Health and Prevention, and co-author of the UAE Country Report, said at the conference: “Cancer is a shared responsibility. Only by working together will we be able to save lives. The UAE National Agenda 2021 highlights preventive medicine and aims to reduce the burden of cancer, while improving the health care system’s readiness and responsiveness to address health risks. The HIBA study is a first step and a positive one towards establishing a foundation for ongoing and future collaborations at country and regional levels.”

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