This year’s World Leukaemia Day, which falls on 22 September, was marked in Egypt with a conference organised by a local group for leukaemia patients.
The conference in Cairo brought together a panel of professionals alongside patients, and aimed to highlight the problems facing Egyptians who suffer from chronic myeloid leukaemia (CML).
CML begins in myeloid cells, which are cells within bone marrow that make red blood cells, platelets and most white blood cells. The problem starts when a genetic change occurs in an early version of these cells, forming abnormalities.
The abnormal leukaemia cells then grow and spread to other parts of the body like the spleen.
The panel explained that CML is rarely seen in children, and although it is typically a slow-growing leukaemia, it can sometimes change into a fast-growing leukaemia that is very hard to treat.
According to the World Health Organisation, the symptoms of CML are vague, and can include fatigue, loss of weight, pain in the bones, feeling full after eating very small portions of food, and an enlarged spleen.
Dr Mervat Mattar, a professor of haematopathology at Caro University, said that huge progress had been made in treating the disease in Egypt in recent years. She explained that until 2000, drugs were scarce, and the only treatment option for patients were marrow transplants, which led to many fatalities.
Now, however, the second generation of drugs means almost 90 percent of cases are treatable in the chronic form.
Ahmed Awad, founder of the patient-support group The Power of CML, said that the aim of the conference echoes that of the group, which is to spread awareness regarding the disease and make the voices of those affected heard both by the government and by the media.
The conference concluded with recommendations that the disease and the experiences of CML patients be highlighted in the media, to dispel myths and stigmas and increase knowledge of the condition.
It was also recommended that more patient groups be established around the country.
The conference also recommended that production of drugs that treat the disease conform to the standards either of the American regulator, the FDA or the European equivalent, the EMA.
It called also for the government to increase the number of patients being treated for free, and to ensure that adequate medications were available.