Message on World Cancer Day 2018

Feb 4, 2018

Like most of you, I have lost friends and family members to cancer. Many more are luckily cancer survivors. The cancer diagnosis does not trigger the same response from everybody. Some act with withdrawal while others meet the diagnosis with a desire to live each day to the fullest. Common for all is that it changes the outlook of life. Cancer forms a mental and psychological burden for its victims.

Cancer is a generic term for a large group of diseases that can affect any part of the body. It is one of the leading causes of morbidity and mortality around the world, and the second leading cause of death globally. Nearly 1 in 6 deaths globally is due to cancer, according to WHO.

World Cancer Day (WCD) is observed every year on February the 4th across the globe to observe the efforts done be different entities and individuals towards a cancer-free world. WCD should also be seized to initiate awareness campaigns and movements. Governments, NGOs ad non-profit organisations work together to help communities learn more about cancer, its causes, risks and cures.

The fight against cancer is trifold. First, awareness about the causes, treatment and side effects should be at the heart of our modern education. Away from aging and other out-of-hand causes, 1 in 3 deaths from cancer result from the five leading behavioral and dietary risks that are overweight, low fruit and vegetable intake, lack of physical activity, tobacco use, and alcohol use, according to WHO.  In fact, tobacco alone is responsible for over 20% of cancer deaths.

Yet, the biggest obstacle on the road to fighting cancer is not awareness. It’s the knowledge necessity that precedes awareness. According to WHO, only 1 in 5 low- and middle-income countries have the necessary data to drive cancer policy. This brings us to the second element of the cancer fighting strategy. The United Nations and its organs assist countries to form policies and tactics in the field of health and others. But the United Nations efforts should be backed up by country cooperation.  Cancer is not a disease of richer, industrialised and high-income nations. It is a leading cause of death in many developing countries.  That’s why North-South cooperation is significant.  Less resourceful countries, where the body of research and academia is still evolving, can benefit from the huge solid steps taken by more developed countries.  The South-South cooperation is also needed, especially where countries with cause-prevention success stories can help others.  Cancer does not only form a threat to one’s overall health and life, it also has a massive economic impact globally and thus requires global action. The total annual economic cost in 2010 was approximately US$ 1.16 trillion, as much as the 2017 GDP of Switzerland and Sweden combined.

In 2017, the World Health Assembly passed the resolution Cancer Prevention and Control through an Integrated Approach (WHA70.12), urging governments and WHO to accelerate action to achieve the targets specified in the Global Action Plan and 2030 UN Agenda for Sustainable Development to reduce premature mortality from cancer. WHO provides global leadership as well as technical assistance to support governments and their partners build and sustain high-quality cervical cancer control programmes through the UN Global Joint Programme on Cervical Prevention and Cancer, and provides technical assistance for rapid, effective transfer of best practice interventions to countries.

 The third weapon in the fight is the avoidance of risk factors.  Between 30–50% of cancers can currently be prevented by implementing existing evidence-based prevention strategies.  The cancer burden can also be reduced through early detection of cancer and management of patients who develop cancer.  Many cancers have a high chance of cure if diagnosed early and treated effectively.

Modifying or sidestepping key risk factors can significantly diminish the burden of cancer. But the previous cannot be successfully implemented through limiting, it should be done by convincing and consolidation of good behaviour.

Good health and well-being is the third on the Sustainable Development Goals’ list (SDGs).  Healthy habits and behaviour is a very affordable preventive tactic. We should lead our children by example, teach them all about the negative effects of tobacco.  Maintaining a healthy lifestyle that includes exercising and a balanced diet to avoid obesity is a notable strategy to start with at home.  Dining tables with lots of fruits and veggies are as important as complex laboratory experiments and research in the field of cancer prevention.

On a different level, all efforts by both the public and private sectors towards a greener economy should be supported.  Urban air pollution and smoke from use of solid fuels are significant factors behind cancer. Industrial and commercial activities that are eco-friendlier will not only do our environment good, but also will keep a cleaner planet for the coming generations.

Taking place since 2016 under the tagline 'We can. I can.', World Cancer Day explores how everyone can do their part to reduce the global burden of cancer. World Cancer Day is a chance to save millions of preventable deaths each year by raising awareness and pushing entities and individuals to take action against that enemy.

Until the day comes when cancer would only be a zodiac sign, the fight against it should not be limited to international health organisations or governments, it’s a fight that either the humanity wins or we all lose.

A meaningful quote I read was: Supporting the fighters, admiring the survivors, honouring the taken, and never ever giving up hope.

More about SDGs:

More about WCD:

 #WorldCancerDay #WeCanICan

Frode Mauring

United Nations Resident Coordinator a.i. and UNDP Resident Representative a.i. to the United Arab Emirates (also covering the Sultanate of Oman  and the State of Qatar)

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