ASEAN nations unite to address the socio-economic burden of cancer

ASEAN-FoundationThe ASEAN Foundation organised the First ASEAN Cancer Stakeholders Forum to address soaring cancer rates in the region, and to launch the second phase of a landmark study aimed at gathering data on the socio-economic burden of cancer in 10 ASEAN Member States.

A Call to Action for Regional Leaders and Policymakers
In his keynote address, Dr. Surin Pitsuwan, Secretary-General of ASEAN, noted that the ASEAN Cancer Stakeholders Forum presents a unique opportunity for key government decision-makers, leading regional and international experts and health officials to come together with a unified goal of addressing issues on the continuum of cancer care and costs.

“There is no doubt that increasing incidences of cancer will soon cause a major and growing economic burden to individuals and their families in the ASEAN region. As the prevalence of cancer continues to increase, it is imperative that we mobilise ASEAN member nations and encourage them to put in place a strategic, focussed cancer-control healthcare policy. This policy must be supported by organised, evidence-based cancer prevention programmes, and strengthened by reliable local patient registries and population databases,” he said

Dr. Surin also stressed that if the cancer epidemic in the ASEAN region is not dealt with now, it is likely to take a toll on the region’s ill-prepared health systems, eventually undermining the region’s economy.

Landmark study on cancer burden
In recognizing the impact of cancer on ASEAN health, The ASEAN Foundation through this Forum is helping the region to raise their awareness of the growing cancer burden and find solutions to reverse the epidemic. The ASEAN Cancer Stakeholders Forum today was introduced to a landmark study titled ‘The Burden of Cancer and its Economic and Social Impact on ASEAN Communities’. The study is a private-public initiative aiming to provide unprecedented data on the epidemiology of cancer in the region, and will also delve into the socio-economic burden of cancer on patients and their families in all ten member states.

“To confront the cancer crisis, we not only need a coordinated regional response from ASEAN governments but also an effective public-private partnership to design and implement comprehensive cancer control programmes” said Dr Makarim Wibisono, Executive Director of the ASEAN Foundation.

“We hope that the Study will assist ASEAN decision makers at different levels to make informed choices on cancer control policies and resource allocations. At the Forum today we hope to strengthen member states capacities to plan and deliver effective cancer control programmes, as the Forum participants will have the opportunity to hear from international and regional healthcare professionals with extensive experience in implementing and evaluating cancer control programmes,” continued Dr Wibisono.

The Top Regional Killers: Lung Cancer and Breast Cancer
Results from the first part of the two-year Study were shared with the participants of the ASEAN Cancer Stakeholders Forum, offering them a comprehensive picture of cancer incidence in the ASEAN region. In presenting the data, Professor Mark Woodward, from The George Institute for Global Health in Sydney noted that there were around 700 thousand new cancer cases in the ASEAN member countries in 2008 and half a million deaths from cancer in the same year.

“Among men, lung cancer led to most cancer deaths, followed by liver and colorectal cancer. Among women, the top three sites for cancer mortality were breast, lung and cervix. There are, however, great geographical variations between the ASEAN communities. For example, mortality rates for breast cancer in Indonesia were roughly three times higher than rates in Laos and Viet Nam, whilst stomach cancer rates in Viet Nam were around four to five times higher than rates in Laos, the Philippines and Thailand. Research is needed to understand the reasons for these variations,” elaborated Dr. Woodward.

His call for action was echoed by the participants at the ASEAN Stakeholders Forum who pledged closer cooperation to support the Cancer Study.

“Only by working together can we ensure cancer is recognized as an imminent health challenge, and is seriously addressed as a development, health, and equity issue in ASEAN,” concluded Dr Wibisono at the close of the Forum.