Jawaher Al Qasimi: First Step to Prevent NCDs is by Including Strategies in Countries’ Sustainable Development Plans

Her Highness Sheikha Jawaher Bint Mohammed Al Qasimi Wife of the Ruler of Sharjah, Founder and Patron of Friends of Cancer Patients (FOCP), signalled the start of the first edition of the Global Forum on Non-Communicable Diseases (NCDs) for Children and Youth, in Sharjah today (Monday), by stressing on the fact, that the first step to defeat NCDs is by including prevention strategies as part of the sustainable development goals of countries. This inclusion will ensure all stake holders work together under a national umbrella to prevent it, including health, educational and social institutions.

Her Highness’ comments were made during a keynote speech at the 2-day event held at Al
Jawaher Reception and Convention Centre, which saw the participation of more than 200 leading experts from renowned health and educational institutions, alongside youth and children who shared their NCDs personal stories.

Drawing on the five pillars that can be successfully deployed to minimise and control childhood cancers, Her Highness Sheikha Jawahar Al Qasimi said, “The first pillar is by changing lifestyle patterns. Often, obesity and smoking are the main reasons attributed for cancers. This forum is therefore focused on addressing such key issues where the roles of the families become pivotal in observing their children’s lifestyles, eating habits with an emphasis on outdoor activities. Greater participation by field experts in effectively organisising awareness plans with families, as the target audience, is one of the key agendas”.

Her Highness further said, “The second pillar is to engage the academia and research institutes to monitor the spread of such diseases. This involves using research to advance evidence-based advocacy, which is key to good policymaking, for fighting NCDs. The third pillar, which is equally critical and rests in the hands of social institutions, who can be instrumental in spearheading social movements to advocate the cause, by mobilising action groups.

Fourth pillar is the state organisation, that facilitates different workshops, can also influence peers, individuals, families and communities to find patterns in their child’s behaviour and habits that are directed towards creating a healthy future. This can be done by forging partnerships. Sharjah which has been named a ‘Child – Friendly City’ (CFC) by UNICEF in recognition of its outstanding efforts and accomplishments in the protection and promotion of children’s rights has many active associations like Friends of Cancer Patients (FOCP) and Friends for Diabetes association, along with WHO knowledge Action Portal, are important institutions and platforms tackling the spread of Childhood NCDs”.

Sheikha Jawahar Al Qasimi highlighted, “The fifth and the final pillar is to provide palliative, medical, psychological care along with field support. It emphasises on a holistic approach to care, that’s imperative in overcoming family and community Childhood NCD challenges”.

Also speaking on the occasion was, HE Sawsan Jafar, Chairperson of the Board of Directors, Friends of Cancer Patients (FOCP), who said, “Sharjah is at the forefront of heralding non-communicable diseases among children. In order to facilitate this movement, the first forum on Childhood NCDs is hosting experts to save more children locally, regionally and internationally. I am especially thankful to His Highness Sheikh Dr Sultan bin Muhammad Al Qasimi, Member of the Supreme Council and Ruler of Sharjah, Her Highness Sheikha Jawaher Bint Mohammed Al Qasimi Wife of the Ruler of Sharjah, for their unwavering support to the cause, to make children’s health a priority with effective advocacy, to engage all segments of the society.

She further said, “This is the 20th year that we are celebrating at FOCP, and are continuing our journey forward, with local and international initiatives to prevent cancer. For two decades we’ve supported cancer patients medically and psychologically. We have developed integrated strategies at FOCP to fight and support cancer by continuously spreading awareness by focusing on fitness activities and nutrition diets. Over the course of these two days, our effort will be to mobilise global initiatives, youth, members of the civil society and doctors, to address these health priorities in children and young adults”.

Addressing the audience was also Dr Mychelle Farmer Chair – NCD Child, who is paediatrician specialising in adolescent health and has worked extensively in global health programs focusing on children. She said, “NCDs affects millions of people each year, shortening the lives of so many when they would otherwise be leading active lives, enjoying with their families. Each year, over 40 million people die due to NCDs, and over 1.5 million of these deaths occur in children adolescents, and young people.

We need bold action now, and we must take bold action together. We will use this time to share ideas about NCDs prevention and early Intervention. We believe there are many practical solutions to improve the quality of life for those affected by and living with NCDs. Many of the solutions will emerge from our common experiences as family and community. During this forum we will have the opportunity to document our ideas through a new online tool. For the next two days, we will plant the seeds for future work and collaboration”.

This was followed by the first plenary session, moderated by Dr Ibtihal Fadhil who serves as a Board Member of the Global NCD Alliance representing the Eastern Mediterranean Region. Experts and affected members of the community, held discussions, about youth living with NCDs, their challenges to access health care, isolation and impact of families and their struggles while caring for children suffering from NCD and solutions by health care providers to provide solutions for complex, chronic diseases.

Victoria Watson, Research Analyst, Center for Health and Gender Equity and a cancer survivor herself  said, “I was lucky to survive it because I was in Canada, and therefore I feel it’s important to discuss how important it is to have access to good and specialised paediatric cancer care both at the hospital and at the community level. I was pulled out of school and my life was all about battling my disease. It led to socio-economic constrains on the family. Thus, cost effectiveness, priority setting, good evidence, good communication skills are key to tackling childhood cancers”.

Sharing his experience, was Wondu Bekele, cancer advocate, Ethiopia, Founder, Mathios Wondu Cancer Society who said, “I lost my son to cancer. I gave up two of my jobs because it was conflicting with the time that I needed to provide for my child, for his care. It entailed transportation costs to other cities in bigger hospitals, apart from massive medical bills. So, I feel from my experience we need to have effective cancer control plans by governments and private entities to help support people and families affected by cancers”.

Sidney Chahonyo, Board Chair: Hope for Cancer Kids, Member, African Regional Committee: Childhood Cancer International, Kenya who is also a cancer survivor said, “close to 70 per cent children in my country have no access to good treatments due to surging hospital bills and high medication costs, so cancer often means a death sentence for them. Through my work, I therefore try to navigate patients and their families towards the curative aspect and also the psycho-social aspect when affected by non-communicable diseases”.

Another expert who shared her experiences was Zipporah Ali, who is the Executive Director or of Kenya Hospices and Palliative Care Association (KEHPCA). She said, “Don’t forget about the care givers, parents who have to often leave their jobs in order to care for their ailing children. I feel, Children’s care should become part of Universal health care strategies in order to improve the care and support for such families who have children with NCDs, some of whom can be cured and for others who can’t be cured”.

WHO’s Knowledge Action Portal 

On the sidelines, the event also saw members from the WHO’s Knowledge Action Portal, discuss the platform’s engagement in disseminating information about NCDs and the affected people. The portal is geared towards involving government organisations, UN agencies, academicians, non-government organisations, the youth and the private sector to share varying perspectives through virtual discussions, eventually forging partnerships to make concerted efforts in the forms of campaigns and community driven activities, that are ultimately purposed towards assessing and finding solutions.

The event is being organised by the Friends of Cancer Patients (FOCP), under the patronage of Her Highness Sheikha Jawaher Bint Mohammed Al Qasimi, International Ambassador of the World Cancer Declaration of the Union for International Cancer Control (UICC), International Ambassador for Childhood Cancer for UICC, and Patron of the Global NCD Alliance Forum.