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Hand in Hand Against Cancer: A new initiative to combat the disease is launched in Egypt

The campaign highlights alarming cancer rates in Egypt and calls for unity in the face of the problem

Injy Deif , Thursday 27 Aug 2015
Hand in Hand campaign (photo by Ahramonline
Hand in Hand aginst Cancer campaign (photo by Ahram online)
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"Slowly but surely, the developed world is winning the battle against cancer, but where does Egypt stand?"

Those were the words of Dr Hamdy Abdel Azim, professor of oncology at Cairo University, on 27 August at the beginning of a conference launching the "Hand in Hand Against Cancer" campaign.

"Everyone in the country must collaborate if we are to defeat the increasing incidences of cancer that the future surely holds, and we are looking at a three-fold increase by 2050," he said.

By the end of 2014 Egypt's national cancer registry, inaugurated in 2008, indicated 113 new cases for every 100,000 citizens each year.

For males, liver cancer was most common with 39 cases for every 10,000 people each year, explained by the spread of hepatitis C. This was followed by cancer of the bladder, lungs, lymph glands, and prostate gland respectively.

In women breast cancer was most common with 35 cases per 10,000 people, followed by cancer of the liver, ovaries, and lymph glands respectively.

Dr Khaled Hussein, professor of oncology and former higher education minister, said the data was collected from five governorates in different corners of the country. They were Damietta, Beheira, Minia, Aswan and Gharbia.

He said the health ministry's High Commission on Cancer had a five-pillared strategy to combat cancer in Egypt: Early detection and prevention; treatment - including palliative care; specialised medical training; scientific research; supporting the national cancer registry.

The initiative brings together members of the Central Administration for Pharmaceutical Affairs (CAPA) and the International Society for Pharmacoeconomics and Outcomes Research (ISPOR) in Egypt.

Well-known oncology figures, Health Insurance Organisation members and others discussed the challenges facing cancer patients in Egypt like access to treatment, and how cooperation between experts, NGOs, pharmaceutical companies and policy-makers will be vital in fighting cancer and increasing awareness.

There was also an update on the chronic myeloid leukaemia situation in Egypt.

"We need more data on that particular cancer," said Dr Mervat Mattar, a professor of internal medicine and hematology. "It used to be considered a death sentence. But now we've introduced second generation treatment drugs which increase survival chances to 90% plus."

Dr Mattar went on to say she dreams of a more complete national registry which houses data from cancer facilities around the county. This system, she hopes, would provide patients across Egypt with equal opportunities to be treated.

Dr Abdel Azim was keen to assert that all relevant parties, not just the already stretched health ministry, are responsible for providing treatment.

These parties include private sector pharmaceutical companies and patient organizations. The former should price their products to be accessible, and the latter should play a bigger role in empowering patients, Dr Abdel Azim said.

Academics should prepare and train medical professionals, and the government should improve data networks, update protocols, and use the media to raise awareness and emphasise the importance of closing the gap between targets and reality.

"The late Mother Theresa said that although not everybody can achieve great things on their own, small steps taken with dedication and love can bring success. That thinking applies to our challenge here," he concluded. 

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