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Brunei committed to closing cancer care gap

Azlan Othman

According to estimates from the Brunei Darussalam Cancer Registry, the risk for a man to develop cancer is 27 per cent (one in four men), while for their female counterpart, the risk is at 29 per cent (one in three women).

Minister of Health Dato Seri Setia Dr Haji Mohd Isham bin Haji Jaafar highlighted this in a message released in conjunction with World Cancer Day 2022, which falls today. This year, it carries the theme ‘Close the Care Gap’.

Based on statistics obtained from the Brunei Darussalam Cancer Registry, 806 citizens and permanent residents in the country were diagnosed with cancer in 2020. The year also saw 352 cancer deaths.

In other words, in 2020, cancer caused about one in five (20.8 per cent) deaths among citizens and permanent residents of Brunei Darussalam.

The number of cancer patients also showed a 25.3-per-cent increase over a five-year period in 2016-2020, compared to 2011-2015.

Among the highest types of cancer cases recorded among men in 2020 were colorectal (68 cases), prostate (39) and lung cancer (37).

Among the women, the highest number of cancer cases recorded were breast (111 cases), followed by colorectal (62), uterine or uterine corpus (62) and ovaries (32).

Minister of Health Dato Seri Setia Dr Haji Mohd Isham bin Haji Jaafar

Dato Seri Setia Dr Haji Mohd Isham said, “Every year, on February 4, the world celebrates World Cancer Day, a global initiative led by the Union for International Cancer Control (UICC) aimed at raising awareness about cancer and acting towards better preventing, detecting and treating cancer.

“Alhamdulillah, as with other countries, Brunei Darussalam is also not left behind in terms of being equally active in raising awareness and taking actions and measures to prevent and reduce the effects of cancer.

“The theme for World Cancer Day from 2022-2024 is ‘Close the Care Gap’. The three-year campaign will focus on equity-related issues, including raising awareness of the lack of equity in cancer care and identifying barriers for the public to access the services and cancer care they need. With the closure of this care gap, every barrier and their potential to reduce individuals’ chances of surviving cancer can be avoided,” he said.

“According to the International Association for Cancer Control (UICC), we can both reduce inequity and close the care gap if we can do some of the following, which, Alhamdulillah, is being implemented in the Sultanate.

“These include increasing public knowledge on cancer prevention; equipping healthcare professionals with skills and knowledge – including how inequality affects cancer care; strengthening basic health care provided in the community; addressing social and economic factors that can negatively affect public health through the formulation of policies and implementation of appropriate programmes.

“Others include increasing resources (ie money and people) – specifically for cancer research, and tracking the burden of cancer nationally to shape our investments more effectively; and implementing a country-specific cancer prevention and control plan that highlights the unique needs and resources of each country,” he said.

Dato Seri Setia Dr Haji Mohd Isham added, like other non-communicable diseases (NCDs), most cancers are preventable. Those who are overweight, smokers, consume unhealthy foods and consume alcohol have a higher risk of getting cancer – such as breast, lung and colon cancer.

“Therefore, since all the cancer risk factors can be prevented, it is necessary for us to avoid it and follow healthy lifestyle steps such as to quit smoking and avoid exposure to passive cigarette smoke; maintaining a healthy weight from childhood and throughout life; ensuring the intake of two to three servings of fruits and vegetables daily; reducing intake of food that is high in fat/excess; and doing physical activity for at least 30 minutes, five or more times a week.

“Other measures include undergoing routine health screening tests to detect early signs of cancer, including for cervical, breast and colorectal cancer; getting vaccinated against Hepatitis B and human papillomavirus (HPV) infections to protect against liver and cervical cancer.

“As everyone knows, the world was hit by the COVID-19 pandemic since the end of 2019. Brunei Darussalam has once again been hit by the second COVID wave since August 2021, and like other countries, it has had an impact and dealt major challenges, including for the MoH.

“Among the challenges faced is the temporary postponement of screening activities under the National Health Screening Programme. Alhamdulillah, the Sultanate has now entered the Early Endemic Phase, and the MoH will continue to work to improve the early detection and prevention of cancer in Brunei Darussalam.

“As we join the global campaign in recognising the first year of the ‘Close the Care Gap’ campaign, especially in understanding the inequalities in cancer care around the world, we are reminded how fortunate Bruneians are to have universal healthcare with prevention, screening and cancer treatment available and accessible to all residents of the country.

“Let us also collectively help reduce the stigma of cancer, to listen to the perspectives of those with cancer and their communities so we can start thinking of better ways to build a brighter future where people can live healthier lives and have access to cancer prevention and treatment services, no matter what age or where they work or live,” he said.

He also said, “On the occasion of celebrating World Cancer Day, I would like to take this opportunity to remind each other of the importance of screening, especially among family and friends.

“In addition, I would like to thank all parties involved, such as government and private clinics and hospitals, The Brunei Cancer Centre (TBCC), Early Detection and Cancer Prevention Services (EDCPS), Pantai Jerudong Specialist Centre (PJSC) as well as non-governmental organisations (NGOs) such as the Children’s Cancer Foundation (YASKA) Brunei, Brunei Breast Cancer Support Group (BBCSG) and other NGOs for their efforts in preventing and controlling cancer in Brunei Darussalam.

“Each of us have the ability to make changes, big or small, in equally making real progress to reduce the effects of cancer. We continue to be committed to raising awareness about cancer and acting in better preventing, detecting and treating cancer.”