Jawaher Al Qasimi: FOCP will continue to mobilise efforts to develop sustainable programmes aimed at cervical cancer elimination
At the Second Cervical Cancer Forum titled ‘Accelerating Action on HPV and Cervical Cancer’
which opened virtually from Sharjah today
• 2-day global conference convenes 35 healthcare experts, policymakers and specialists from 11 countries
• Seven keynote addresses and panel discussions based on four themes
• Forum advances Sharjah’s agenda of evolving innovative, collaborative and practical cervical cancer prevention and elimination programmes
Sharjah, January 27, 2021
“The staggering number of cervical cancer victims confirms the severity of this disease, and it is imperative that we stand together to continue fighting it in every possible way to ensure raising awareness among individuals about the importance of preventive measures,” said Her Highness Sheikha Jawaher bint Mohammed Al Qasimi, Wife of His Highness the 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 today (Wednesday).
Being organised virtually from Sharjah by the UAE-based civil society organisation FOCP in partnership with the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), the two-day global forum has convened over 35 pioneering actors and global stakeholders in the field from 11 countries.
In an opening address, Her Highness Sheikha Jawaher Al Qasimi 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 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 healthcare industry has been facing a challenging situation since the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic, which has affected patients severely. However, international efforts to combat the situation have risen to the occasion, along with a boost in awareness campaigns. FOCP continues to mobilise efforts, locally as well as globally, to develop sustainable programmes aimed at eliminating cancer. 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 polices and strategies to deal with the ongoing challenges, helping save the lives of many women and ending the emotional suffering of their families,” Her Highness added.
The UAE response
Addressing the forum, His Excellency Abdulrahman Al Oweis, Minister of Health and Prevention (MoHAP) – UAE, 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.”
HE added: “Raising awareness about the importance of early screening for cervical cancer, and its vital role in minimising the death rate between females in the UAE is very important and we are focused on it.”
Touching on the UAE’s response in her welcome address, Her Excellency 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 UAE’s Ministry of Health and Prevention had announced a country-wide 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.”
The global perspective
Delivering her keynote address, Princess Dina Mired, Member of WHO expert group for elimination of cervical cancer and Immediate Past President of the Union for International Cancer Control, pointed out that the World Health Organisation’s global cervical cancer elimination 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: “This forum is an excellent opportunity to remind ourselves that the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development aims to achieve a life of dignity for all people and calls for reducing by one-third premature deaths from non-communicable diseases. 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: “Cervical cancer prevention programmes represent a ‘best-buy’ in global health and contribute to achieving the global development targets for the health of women and girls and the reduction of non- communicable diseases. 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. This forum is another important step to accelerate actions and ultimately eliminate cervical cancer.”
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. With key partners such as WHO and the International Agency for Research in Cancer, we work to integrate these services into comprehensive cancer control plans.”
Setting the agenda on cervical cancer elimination
The inaugural day of the forum witnessed strategic discussions with participants presenting their unique local experiences through keynote addresses and panel discussions. 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 on eliminating cervical cancer in the Arab Region.
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 panelists 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, UK; and Dr Muna Al Kuwari, Director of Specialised Care Management and Executive Vice President of the team, Ministry of Health and Prevention (MOHAP), UAE. Dr. Ibtihal Fadhil, Chair, Eastern Mediterranean NCD Alliance, Bahrain, moderated the panel.
The second panel – ‘Reflections on the Sharjah Declaration 3×3 and the way forward’ – saw panelists 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), discuss 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.
Cancer control and prevention
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’. Panelists included Dr. Hussain Al Rand, Assistant Undersecretary of Health Centers and Clinics Sector, Ministry of Health and Prevention (MOHAP), UAE; 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 tomorrow (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 Cervical Cancer Forum 2021 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.