By Ghadeer Ghloum

KUWAIT: Under the auspices of Health Minister Dr Ahmad Al-Awadhi, the Gulf Federation for Cancer Control marked its 8th year of raising awareness of cancer in GCC countries. The event was held on Feb 1, 2023 to shed light on the campaign's success at improving awareness on detecting different types of cancers in early stages.

It took place at Kuwait Towers in the presence of Dr Hessah Majed Al-Shaheen, committee president of the 8th edition for raising awareness on cancer, Dr Khaled Ahmad Al-Saleh, General Secretary of the Gulf Federation for Cancer Control, Dr Assad Hafeez, WHO representative in Kuwait, and Dr Hmood Al-Zoubi, Director of the department of non-communicable diseases.

Dr Shaheen said that this year the president of the Gulf Federation for Cancer Control decided to include the support of people who have recovered from cancer. She said this category deserves everyone's encouragement because they have experienced cancer and recovered, therefore, they take part in uplifting those who are still fighting the disease. Their positivity affects ill people psychologically and motivates them towards quick recovery. The campaign worked towards focusing part of its activities on this brave category and harnessing their important role in delivering the awareness message the campaign is initiating this year, in addition to shedding light on the importance of their role in society.

Dr Shaheen said the slogan that is chosen for this year's slogan is "Our Gulf is Wise", signifying the achievements of this collaborative week that inherits its success from the past seven years. She said the campaign continues to succeed at raising awareness of cancer in its early stages, which affords a high rate of recovery, in addition to constantly encouraging individuals to embrace a healthy lifestyle that includes healthy nutrition, physical exercise and psychological wellbeing.

Dr Saleh further elaborated on the campaign's achievements. He said at the beginning of this campaign, 80 percent of the population in GCC countries used to fear cancer and consider it a fatal disease that cannot be cured. This percentage started decreasing until it reached 55 percent in 2017. According to a 5-year survey conducted from 2014 till 2019, in 2014, 65 percent believed this disease is fatal, 40 percent knew about two risk factors and 20 percent were aware of early checkup programs.

The percentages improved in 2019 as 45 percent believed cancer is an incurable disease, while the awareness of two risk factors increased to 55 percent and awareness of early checkup programs increased to 45 percent. Today, people who come for medication after reaching late stages of cancer are approximately 40 percent. The Gulf Federation for Cancer Control has set a goal that people who reach late stages of cancer do not exceed 10 percent. Dr Saleh said in order to succeed at reaching this goal, constant training and work is a must. Trainers must know the key to success is persistence; therefore, they should not lose hope and enthusiasm.

He added in Kuwait, the campaign has already trained 2,500 male and female nurses and 1,318 dentists, so oral cancer no longer appears in late stages as it used to because the majority of dentists today are trained on the "visual screening program" which makes dentists capable of detecting oral cancer in their patients. He said 1,265 doctors were trained on detecting various kinds of cancer and the process of treatment, in addition to youths such as female students, who were trained to detect breast cancer, as breast cancer has started appearing at younger ages in Kuwait compared to other countries. The campaign has reached 127,000 students so far.

Additionally, Dr Hafeez emphasized on the importance of awareness of cancer, which the ministry of health, other Gulf countries and WHO are organizing this week. He said prevalence of cancer is rising all around the world, but also in the region and Kuwait. There are various reasons for this, he said, but the good thing is that cancer can now be managed very well if detected early through screening and proper treatment.

He also said that it is necessary to create awareness among the general public on how to be more aware, what are the options people can access for early screening, early detection and early management of cancer. That's why holding similar activities is very important for any country and any population, Dr Hafeez said. At the end of the event, Dr Zoubi said awareness and programs that detect cancer are essential for preventing cancer, especially breast, colon and colorectal cancer. He said is a lot of efforts are being exerted by all departments of the ministry of health to raise awareness and prevent cancer.