L to R: Moderator Charles Goodard, Princess Dina Mired, President of the Union International Cancer Control (UICC), Tareef Yousef Alaama, Minstry of Health, Saudi Arabia, Dilshad Ali, CEO, Avivo Group and Karol Sikora, CEO Proton Partners International, discuss how to educate, innovate and forge partnerships for cancer control Image Credit: Supplied

Dubai: With 18 million cases of cancer diagnosed worldwide and 45 million people living with as yet undiagnosed cases, the world is facing a tsunami of cancer and urgently needs a sustainable strategy to combat the pandemic.

As the second annual Economist War on Cancer Middle East Conference 2019 held in Dubai on Tuesday made this call, oncologists and health strategists from the Middle East highlighted the need to address gaps in prevention, diagnosis and treatment. 

Dr Madhu Sasidhar, Chief Medical Officer of Cleveland Clinic Abu Dhabi, stressed on the importance of a robust framework of primary care in the country. “The family physician is the gatekeeper and he can probably detect if his long term patient of anaemia requires a screening for colon cancer. Early detection and preventive screening can reduce mortality due to [lung] cancer by 20 per cent. Again nearly 96 per cent of people screened present false positives and so we need really expert diagnosis and management to detect four per cent of the genuine cases.”

Dr Younus Mohammad Ameen Kazem, chief executive officer, Dubai Healthcare Corporation, said, “We created the Basmah initiative for free screening of breast, colorectal and cervical cancer under basic health insurance and are working towards creating a Centre of Excellence for oncology so that patients can come to one accredited centre.”

He pointed out that this was necessary because “Dubai is emerging as a population hub within the UAE, with 29 per cent of the country’s population. This share is expected to increase in future due to economic growth, and greater insurance penetration. The emirate is witnessing growing burden of morbidity and mortality related to oncology. Oncology care in Dubai is available, but currently fragmented. We are working to enhance current cancer care in Dubai to offer a world class internationally recognised service to Emiratis, expatriates and foreign health care tourists.”

Dr Azad Moopen, Chairman and founder of Aster DM Health Care, called for a proactive affordable cancer care strategy. ‘The government needs to initiate an active three-month campaign for mobilisation of an army of health care professionals and oncologists for preventive screening for breast, colorectal, cervical and lung cancers. This campaign must include diagnostic and preventive screening free of cost in which the private sector must contribute. The media can run active campaigns to create awareness and the social groups and organisations as well need to run community campaigns. Private hospitals can offer subsidised at-cost rates for advanced diagnosis that insurances can cover. This will reduce the burden of full-blown cancer incidence in the larger scenario.

Dr Mona Al Kuwari, director of Specialised Care Management, the UAE Ministry of Health and Prevention, told Gulf News: ‘We are committed to meet the goals of National Health Agenda 2021 and reduce mortality due to cancer by 18 per cent. We at the health ministry are running active preventive screening campaigns for all major cancers in our hospitals and encouraging patients in target age groups for specific kinds of cancers to undergo preventive screening. We are holding a root cause analysis workshop on cancer in the forthcoming week and are in the future working towards full health insurance coverage for screening and treatment of cancers in the UAE. Right now we have cancer treatment centres at RAK, Abu Dhabi, Al Tawam. In addition, other public-private partnerships are coming up which will provide several other cancer centres of excellence in the UAE.”

According to statistics on national cancer incidence in the GCC, UAE cancer incidence stands at 62 per cent while the global average is 16 per cent. The UAE cancer registry developed by the Ministry of Health and Prevention says 3,744 cancer cases were reported in 2015 of which nearly 72 per cent occurred among expatriates and 28 per cent among Emiratis. Nearly 42 per cent of these cancers were diagnosed in males while females accounted for 53 per cent.