|The author ( right) and Princess Dina Mired at the conference: Role, position and strategies of cancer society for cancer control - World Cancer Congress 2014. Photo Aaron Sobey
by Thuong Sobey*
In recent years, many countries have made remarkable progress against cancer. The US has seen 20 successive years of decline in cancer mortality rates, which translates to more than 1.3 million cancer deaths averted.
While developed countries keep debating the benefit of cancer screening programmes, they are sorely needed in poor, low-income and middle-income countries.
Many countries lack equipment to detect cancer and even when patients are correctly diagnosed with cancer, they cannot afford or access the necessary treatment.
India, China, and other East and Central Asian countries account for nearly half of the world's new cancer cases and deaths, according to Cancer Atlas 2013.
"In the poor and developing world, this inequity is something that we face every day – the tragedy of cancer without access to sufficient care and treatment," said Princess Dina Mired, Union for International Cancer Control ambassador and general director of the King Hussein Cancer Foundation (KHCF) in Jordan.
The annual number of new cancer cases in the world is predicted to increase from over 14 million in 2012 to almost 22 million in 2013 due to population growth and ageing alone.
"One of the great cancer control challenges of the 21st century is to bring the benefits of effective interventions to as many people as possible, including in low- and middle-income countries," said Christopher Wild, director of the International Agency for Research on Cancer.
We need more Mired
There are some people we are destined to meet, who inspire us and light the path we walk along. For me, a stage IV breast cancer survivor, I had such a moment when I met Princess Dina Mired of Jordan, one of the leading advocates for cancer treatment, at the International Cancer Congress.
After the conference, I learnt that she was the mother of a leukaemia survivor and her passionate heart and endless love for her people motivated her to successfully change the face of cancer in her own country, Jordan, and the Middle East as a whole.
"When we first started in 1997, the cancer taboo was so huge that no one believed that anyone could actually survive cancer. So naturally, our initial focus had to be treatment," Mired said. "Only after we had achieved quality treatment did people begin to listen to our messages about the value of early detection and prevention."
In Viet Nam, my home country, cancer stigma and burden are very much the same as in Jordan a decade ago. Cancer means a death sentence. Poor people cannot afford treatment and give up hope.
I am proof of this fact. I was a middle-class lecturer at Viet Nam National University when I was diagnosed with stage IV breast cancer. I thought about committing suicide to avoid being a burden on my family and society.
"Treatment and prevention are heavily interrelated. The success of one is directly related to the other. But prevention takes time to have an impact. A person in the developing world will not buy in to the importance of prevention if there is no treatment option available should that person get the disease," Mired said.
When more lives are saved, people give us more trust and they believe that cancer treatment is not beyond us, we can combat cancer.
Mired and her colleagues have worked tirelessly since 1997 to obtain the huge achievement. KHCF and King Hussein Cancer Centre (KHCC) are internationally-recognised. KHCC is the only centre in the developing world and the sixth worldwide to be awarded the Joint Commission International Clinical Care Program Certificate for its oncology programme.
Mired founded and developed the "Fundraising and Development" department, making it one of the best fundraising institutions in Jordan. KHCF has succeeded in enlisting every segment of society in the fight against cancer and is now the largest source of non-profit funds dedicated to the fight against cancer in the Middle East.
Low-income and developing countries can follow Jordan and Mired's example to combat the cancer taboo. I strongly believe that this world needs more Mireds to change the face of cancer. On my bucket list, I've added the goal of visiting Jordan and learning from what she has done in order to better sustain my cancer support organisation, Breast Cancer Network Viet Nam.
* Thuong Sobey is the founder and CEO of the Breast Cancer Network Viet Nam and a member of Union for International Cancer Control.