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Cancer study alarms govt, hospital officials

Cancer study alarms govt, hospital officials

090226_04_1.jpg
090226_04_1.jpg

A recent study warning of a surge in cancer cases in the developing world has made health officials nervous, as unprepared hospitals struggle to keep up

Photo by:
SOVANN PHILONG

Cambodian-Russian Friendship hospital last week. 

A STUDY highlighting the developing world's growing vulnerability to cancer-related deaths has shocked Cambodian health officials, who are concerned that too few resources and too little data on the disease means it is being overlooked.

According to a recent report by health research group Axios International, cancer now kills more people each year in developing countries than either HIV/Aids, tuberculosis or malaria, and has become one of the leading causes of death in poorer nations.

"Developing countries are experiencing large and rapidly growing cancer caseloads for which their health and social service systems must rapidly become prepared," a press release this month stated.

But despite the warning, health officials say that poor information and lack of funding may prevent them from heeding the advice.

"We have no national statistics showing the number of patients with cancer," Eav Sokha, head of the department of oncology at the Cambodian-Russian Friendship Hospital, which specialises in cancer treatment, told the Post last week.

"But we know that there are a lot. They usually go to other countries for treatment because they know there are not many possibilities here," he added.

According to the World Heath Organisation, the incidence of cancer is growing in Cambodia. In 2005, the disease killed approximately 11,000 people, 9,000 of whom were under the age of 70. By 2030, it is expected to be in the top four main causes of death.  

Ouk Monna, a secretary of state at  the Ministry of Health, told the Post that the ministry has "never conducted any research" into the prevalence of cancer, as they do not have enough money to fund any additional projects.

"We worry about cancer in Cambodia, as well as the world," she said.

"We always make requests to other countries to provide medicine to Cambodia. Generally, we import medicine from the United States, but I don't know how much this year," she added.

According to Eav Sokha, of an estimated 21,000 cancer patients who came for treatment at his hospital since 2003, almost a quarter had cervical cancer.  

"We estimate that 25 percent of cancer patients are cervical cancer patients, 19 percent have breast cancer and 16 percent have nose, ear or throat cancer, which occurs mainly in men who smoke and drink," Eav Sokha said.

Cervical cancer the most prevelant

Although cervical cancer is the most common cancer found in Cambodian women, according to WHO, vaccines now widely available at low cost in the West are still only available from private clinics for hundreds of dollars.

"Some countries have vaccinations available to many people, but Cambodia cannot do this because it needs a lot of money for this program," Veng Thai, director of the Phnom Penh Health Department, told the Post.

Ministries say they are unable to concentrate funding to address the disease, which pap smears and vaccines can now help prevent.

"Because the Ministry of Women's Affairs focuses mainly on HIV/Aids and malaria, we do not know much about cancer," said Im Sithae,  a secretary of state at the ministry.

"Although it is still a big concern for us, we feel we can do nothing but educate people," she said.

Eav Phalla, 48, a patient at the Cambodian-Russian Friendship Hospital, was diagnosed with lung cancer after he became sick three months ago.

"The service at hospital has been good, the doctor and physician have taken care of me, but sometimes the medicine that I need the hospital does not have," he said.

"The doctor tells me that the hospital cannot afford this medicine," he added. 

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