Dubai hosts war on cancer Middle East conference

Rigorous data analysis key to fighting rise of cancer in the Middle East


With 555,000 new cancer patients a year and a 70% death rate, at The Economist’s inaugural War on Cancer Middle East event, high-level speakers and delegates discussed solutions to obstacles impeding progress in tackling rising incidence of cancer in the region.

With cancer set to rise faster in the Middle East than any other region by 2030, global healthcare professionals, policymakers and patients identified and discussed the key topics of prevention, data research and the stigma associated with the disease at last week’s inaugural War on Cancer Middle East event.

The Middle East has seen cancer grow at an expediential rate, with over 555,000 new cancer cases a year and 393,000 (70%) mortalities. Palliative care (for the terminally ill) in the region is a pressing problem, as only two out of twenty countries in the region have a plan in place to tackle the issue.

War on Cancer Middle East explored some of the best practices learned from other events in the global War on Cancer initiative, and evaluated the scale of the problem in the Middle East. With a booming youth population and ambitious plans for the future, the event came at an important juncture for the region, drawing exceptional speakers, as well as delegates from the local and international media, industry professionals, government bodies, patients and academics.

The three general themes that were addressed were prevention, stigma and research (specifically a lack of data). Effective strategies to prevent serious cases of cancer include creating a climate that encourages early detection, through greater awareness of environmental triggers and a more structured system. A widespread stigma for cancer patients holds back progress in this area, and threatens progress. . There is also a pressing need to build a regional database to push forward research throughout the countries through closer collaboration.

“There are three main pillars for successful cancer treatments in the region that need to be put into place throughout the Middle East in order to enable consistent and standardised results. The first is a structured system that follows each stage of cancer, from detection, to treatment, to palliative care and finally psychological help. The second pillar is sustainability of services to enable us to ensure maximum outcomes in all cases”, HRH Princess Dina Mired, president-elect, Union of International Cancer Control (UICC).

Professionals believe that having a structured and standardised cancer control plan is extremely important in producing a positive outcome. Each step needs to be analysed thoroughly if it is to lead to improved outcomes for the patients, whether that is treatment, financial issues or working with management and governments.

“The hope and aspirations for the region in the future are positive given the financial infrastructure being put into place. In order to improve prevention in the Middle East, there are a lot of environmental triggers including smoking, pesticides, sun, obesity due to inactivity and people needing to be educated on risks, this would aim to stop the avalanche of new cancer patients. Early testing is a pivotal part of prevention but also improves chances of survival. A lack of research and data regarding cancer, for example which cancers are prevalent in the region and how and why these vary must be resolved to facilitate research,” said Vivek Muthu, chief health adviser, The Economist Intelligence Unit.

At the event, there was also discussion on the first regional report addressing breast cancer in the Middle East. The Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health ‘Health Systems in Action: Breast Cancer in the Middle East’ (HIBA) study is set to be finalised in the near future. It found that breast cancer is projected to double in the 2012 to 2030 period. Demographic and epidemiological shifts in the region, and, as well as increases in obesity and diabetes, are the main causes of the increase in incidence of this disease area. Health systems are not keeping up with increased demand. Barriers to treatment that were identified in the findings include access to care, culture, religion and societal issues. The study also highlighted integrated patient pathways to be able to track the experience of those in treatment as an important step towards improving care in the region.

The conference was attended by leading pharmaceutical companies, government officials and business leaders, with panel sessions including ‘Middle East 2050,’ looking ahead to innovation that could revolutionise cancer care in the region over the coming decades.