Marking World Cancer Day on 4th February, Friends of Cancer Patients (FOCP) – a UAE-based civil society organization, has taken the opportunity to extend its gratitude to the nurses, doctors, researchers, volunteers, advocates, and other caregivers in oncology from around the country, as well as government agencies, who have worked these past 12 months through the COVID-19 pandemic.
Led by the Union for International Cancer Control (UICC), the 2021 World Cancer Day theme “I Am and I Will” encapsulates their extraordinary spirit and the strength of the cancer community. Their stories captured throughout the past year are being showcased on the occasion of World Cancer Day in testimonies and articles on a dedicated page of the official website. These stories highlight that while the pandemic is threatening the progress being made in the fight against cancer, it has also created the opportunity for several national health systems to address existing challenges.
The results of a survey conducted by UICC with over 100 of its member organisations in 55 countries, including civil society, hospitals, research centres and patient support groups, revealed that their income and organisational activities are under significant pressure, with almost three-quarters reporting reductions in income of anywhere from 25% to 100% in 2020 and similar projections for 2021.
For FOCP, while the past year posed an unprecedented challenge as the entity continued its efforts to engage in community outreach efforts amid restrictions on travel and social gatherings and faced a few barriers while providing patients access to treatment due to a pressurised national healthcare system, the cancer non-profit rose to the challenge that was 2020 and turned it into an opportunity to innovate, strengthen local and global partnerships, and continue strongly on its mission of cancer prevention and control in the UAE and beyond.
The testimonies that UICC is showcasing illustrate how organisations and healthcare workers are rallying across the globe to support patients, resume screenings and diagnostics, maintain awareness on the need for prevention and provide a safe environment for treatment.
Working to strengthen its three pillars of Advocacy, Patient Access, and Community Awareness, FOCP had a promising start of 2020 with two key projects: the third edition of the Global NCD Alliance Forum in February, which witnessed 400 delegates from 80 nations, followed by the Pink Caravan Ride – FOCP’s annual pan-UAE campaign to spread breast cancer awareness and offer free health check-ups. At the end of a 10-day trek across the UAE, the campaign had successfully delivered 11,077 free breast screenings and medical consultations to residents.
“By the time we concluded our 10th annual Pink Caravan Ride in early March, the stark reality of the COVID-19 pandemic, and the extent of disruption it would cause to life and work had begun becoming apparent. We at FOCP immediately knew that we were not going to let the lockdown put a damper on the goals we had set for the rest of 2020. Our team rose to the challenge, designed a robust remote working plan, which was supported by multiplatform communication channels to ensure we were able to fully sustain the vital services provided to our patients while keeping in touch with our partners and stakeholders, and executing every project, campaign, and program we had on our annual roster.”
Throughout 2020, FOCP organized 72 webinars remaining strong in its training and advocacy efforts; signed a key strategic partnership with UNFPA to boost its role in HPV and cervical cancer elimination, launched the 3rd edition of the Arabic Language Cancer Atlas in collaboration with UICC, ACS, and IARC; FOCP’s Ameera Fund, a global cancer fund advanced its humanitarian endeavors at UAE and abroad and conducted training for cancer registrars in charge of the regional cancer registry; and was able to support treatment costs worth AED 2.95 million of 400 cancer patients and their families in the UAE; and extended emotional support to 2000+ cancer sufferers, including families, through its various programs and cultural events.
Considerable challenges remain in the fight against cancer. The widespread impact of the pandemic will make it harder for countries to achieve certain sustainable development goals, in particular health targets and universal health coverage.
Dr. Cary Adams, CEO of UICC said: “COVID-19 has impacted cancer control globally and the response by the cancer community has been extraordinary, heroic even. This year, more than ever, it is appropriate that we celebrate their achievements on World Cancer Day. Let us all aim in 2021 to refocus our collective efforts on the long-term challenges that cancer poses to every country in the world. We must prevent more, diagnose earlier and ensure that all people living with cancer have access to the quality treatment they need.”
World Cancer Day 2021 is dedicated to the courage and achievements of people living with cancer and their families, as well as the nurses, doctors, researchers, volunteers, and other caregivers and advocates who care for them and work on their behalf – and calls for everyone in helping to save lives from this disease.