• UAE Editorial

FOCP to eliminate cervical cancer: Jawaher Al Qasimi




"The staggering number of cervical cancer victims confirms the severity of this disease, and it is imperative that we stand together to fight it in every possible way by raising awareness among individuals about the importance of preventive measures," said H.H. Sheikha Jawaher bint Mohammed Al Qasimi, wife of H.H. Dr. Sheikh Sultan bin Muhammad Al Qasimi, Supreme Council Member and Ruler of Sharjah, and Founder and Patron of Friends Of Cancer Patients (FOCP), at the opening of the second edition of the Cervical Cancer Forum launched on Wednesday.


Being organised virtually from Sharjah by the FOCP in partnership with the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), the two-day global forum has brought together over 35 pioneering actors and global stakeholders in the field from 11 countries.


In an opening address, Sheikha Jawaher said, "As many as 7,500 women die every year of this disease in the Middle East and North Africa region, taking away from us a little girl with the dream of a better future, a sister helping to look after her family with love and care, or a mother raising her precious family. Therefore, it is our duty as individuals, institutions and societies to join hands in the fight against cervical cancer so that all women and young girls stay safe and healthy.


"The first edition of the Cervical Cancer Forum resulted in the launch of the ‘Sharjah Declaration on Cervical Cancer 3X3’. We trust that this edition will achieve outcomes that will facilitate and expedite regular examination, treatment and vaccination for those who need them, as well as adopting policies and strategies to deal with the ongoing challenges, helping save the lives of many women and ending the emotional suffering of their families," Sheikha Jawaher added.


Addressing the forum, Abdul Rahman bin Mohammad bin Nasser Al Owais, Minister of Health and Prevention, said, "The UAE has in place national preventive strategies and health and awareness programmes to curb cancer, and promote a healthy lifestyle to all members of the community, in addition to early detection of cancers including cervical cancer to achieve the UAE Vision 2021."


Touching on the UAE’s response, in her welcome address, Sawsan Al-Fahoum Jafar, Chairperson of the Board of Directors, FOCP, said, "Following the first Cervical Cancer Forum hosted in the UAE in 2018, the Ministry of Health and Prevention (MoHaP) had announced a countrywide rollout for the vaccination. Accordingly, in the year 2019-20, against a target of 16,590, a total of 13,874 were vaccinated for HPV1, HPV2, and HPV3, providing an extensive 84 per cent coverage. I am confident that the discussions over the next two days will bring us new insights on how to incorporate global best practices in our healthcare policies."


Delivering her keynote address, Princess Dina Mired, Member of the World Health Organisation (WHO) Expert Group for the Elimination of Cervical Cancer, and Immediate Past President of the Union for International Cancer Control, pointed out that the WHO’s strategy that was formally launched in November 2020 set a bold target of achieving 90 percent HPV vaccination coverage, 70 percent screening coverage and 90 percent access to treatment and palliative care, across all countries. "However, this strategy will give hope to the 570,000 women afflicted with cervical cancer annually only if countries and global partners implement it in earnest after fixing the flaws in the inefficient fundamentals that currently dog our health systems," she said.


In her welcome speech, Diene Kieta, Deputy Executive Director (Programmes), United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA – HQ) said, "While applauding the success of cervical cancer screening in many high-income countries, we have a responsibility to replicate this progress in all settings, in all countries. For example, in the Arab region, only the UAE and Libya have included the HPV vaccine in their national immunisation programme. UNFPA will take the lead on executing the Global Strategy to eliminate Cervical Cancer and is ready to support documenting good practices to inform regional and national policies on prevention, early detection and treatment of cervical cancer in the Arab region."


Speaking on behalf of Dr. Luay Shabaneh, Regional Director, United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) - Arab States Regional Office (ASRO), Dr. Karina Nersesyan, Deputy Regional Director, (UNFPA – ASRO), said, "UNFPA is actively supporting prevention efforts through its partnership with the GAVI Alliance, which in turn is supporting low-income countries get access to a sustainable supply of HPV vaccines for as low as US$4.50 per dose."


Dr. Dena Assaf, UN Resident Coordinator for UAE, opined, "Ensuring healthy lives and promoting well-being for all at all ages is clearly set out in the 2030 Development Agenda. This is the first time any development agenda has recognised that non-communicable diseases, like cancer, pose a significant health and development challenge, which therefore impacts other sustainable development efforts."


Speaking about the International Atomic Energy Agency’s contribution to the cause, Rafael Mariano Grossi, Director General, IAEA – Austria, said, "The IAEA focuses on redressing the inequalities in the availability of lifesaving technology to treat cases of cervical cancer across countries. As part of our mandate, we provide medicine, radiology and radiation therapy resources, mobilise and procure equipment to help countries control cancer. We also share knowledge from our international databases and support in clinical trials and research. We have more than 140 active technical cooperation projects in the Middle East, and Jordan, Egypt, UAE, Tunisia and Qatar are among the countries we serve."


The inaugural day of the forum focused on the theme: "2021: Where are we with Cervical Cancer Elimination?". Dr. Nasim Pourghazian, Technical Officer UHC and Noncommunicable Diseases, World Health Organisation, Regional Office for the Eastern Mediterranean (EMRO) delivered a keynote on WHO’s perspective.


The second keynote on UNFPA’s global perspectives on cervical cancer was delivered by Petra Tenhoope-Bender, Technical Advisor, Sexual and Reproductive Heath branch, United Nations Population Fund.


This was followed by the first panel of the day titled "Better healthcare policies for cervical cancer elimination". The panellists included Dr Julie Torode, Director, Special Projects, Union for International Cancer Control (UICC), Switzerland; Prof. Colm O’Mahony, Consultant Physician, British Association for Sexual Health and HIV, United Kingdom, and Dr Muna Al Kuwari, Director of Specialised Care Management and Executive Vice President of the team, Ministry of Health and Prevention (MOHaP). Dr. Ibtihal Fadhil, Chair, Eastern Mediterranean NCD Alliance, Bahrain, moderated the panel.


The second panel, "Reflections on the Sharjah Declaration 3x3 and the way forward" saw panellists Dr Sawsan Al Madhi, Director-General, Friends of Cancer Patients (FOCP); Dr. Shible Sahbani, Regional Sexual and Reproductive Health Advisor, UNFPA – ASRO, and Dr. Kamal Fahmy, medical officer, Vaccine Preventable Diseases and Immunisation, WHO (EMRO), discussed the efforts in place since the adoption of the declaration at the first forum, with moderator Dr. Ziad Mhiersi, Director of Global Health Strategies, USA.


The second half of the first day’s discussions focused on outcomes under the theme "Continuum of Care in Cervical Cancer". Dr. Solaiman Abuserwil, Head of the National Vaccines’ Committee, Ministry of Health, Libya, guided the first panel under this theme, titled "How primary healthcare is providing screening, prevention, and access to HPV vaccinations under the current COVID pandemic". Panellists included Dr. Hussain Al Rand, Assistant Under-Secretary of Health Centres and Clinics Sector, Ministry of Health and Prevention (MOHAP); Iliaz Asruf, Senior Policy Officer, Infectious Disease Control, Ministry of Health, Welfare and Sports, Kingdom of the Netherlands, and Dr. Partha Basu, Head, Screening (SCR) Group, Early Detection and Prevention Section (EDP), International Agency for Research on Cancer (WHO).


The last panel titled "How to ensure equity and access in cervical cancer care from continuum, including chemotherapy to palliative care for better outcome", had Dr. Lamia Safieldeen, Senior Officer Cancer Control, Department of Health, UAE; Prof. Mustapha Benhassou, Professor of Gynaecology and Obstetrics Care, University of Mohammed VI for Health Sciences, Department for Cancer Treatment, Morocco, and Dr. Lisa Stevens, Director, Division of Programme of Action for Cancer Therapy (PACT), IAEA – Austria, discuss the issues with moderator Dr. Khaled Al Saleh, General Secretary, Federation of Gulf Cancer Control, Kuwait.


The second Cancer Cervical Forum, which will continue on Thursday with three panel discussions and two keynote addresses, will propose a set of recommendations and a call for action for addressing cervical cancer that integrates the pillars of prevention, treatment, palliative care, and social aspects globally and specifically in the Arab region.


The forum is FOCP’s first joint event with the UNFPA since the two entities signed an MoU in November 2020 to boost collaborative efforts in reducing the burden of cervical cancer on the Arab states.

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