Preventative programmes, early detection and new treatments are setting the pace for combating the disease
His Excellency Shaikh Dr Khalid Bin Jabor al Thani is a leading medical practitioner in Qatar and a high-profile pioneer in the treatment of cancer, bringing hope to patients and families across the Gulf.
Dr Khalid continues to spearhead a positive and humane approach to the treatment and prevention of cancer by actively helping to change attitudes and social perceptions of the disease by disseminating knowledge and stimulating open debate.
In 1997, Dr Khalid founded the Qatar Cancer Society (formerly known as the Qatar National Cancer Society), an organisation dedicated to the prevention and treatment of cancer, under the patronage of HH Shaikh Jassim bin Hamad al Thani.
The QCS has long dealt with sensitive issues such as raising awareness on breast cancer. Various campaigns have been initiated to combat cancer include anti-smoking, regular screening to aid early detection, ways to reduce skin cancer and more rigorous approaches to environmental protection and controlling pollution.
Now further building on this success, Dr Khalid has rebranded it earlier this year as the Qatar Cancer Society (QCS) to better reflect its vision and strategy which includes key initiatives with global brands, government and Qatari financial institutions.
The QCS will collaborate with GlaxoSmithKline (GSK), a leading pharmaceutical company, to work on initiatives aimed at reducing the risk of cancer worldwide. This collaboration symbolises the organisation’s new global outlook and international outreach.
Symbolising harmony, strength, freedom and magnificence, the new QCS logo takes the shape of a butterfly, a figure that represents life in its most beautiful form.
Internationally renowned institutions MD Andersen Cancer Center and George Washington University have also shown support to the new vision and strategy adopted by the QCS.
“I am passionate about the prevention and treatment of cancer and to an extent have taken myself away from my related medical businesses in order to fully concentrate and focus on improving the quality of life for cancer patients and spearheading preventative programmes,” says Dr Khalid, pointing out that more than 70 per cent of all cancers can be avoided and controlled through preventative measures from early screening to changing the lifestyle of individuals.
The society has been under Dr Khalid’s continuous chairmanship for the past 15 years and has become an internationally recognised authority, taking a leadership role in advocacy programmes to help prevent cancer.
Dr Khalid continues to raise public awareness on healthy living including diet, lifestyle and promoting the benefits of physical activity. “I am sorry to say that if you look at my generation it is obvious that we have problems with obesity, diabetes, hypertension and the consequences of a more sedentary lifestyle,” he says.
Dr Khalid highlights the importance of raising public awareness on the disease as well as developments in research, the availability of new treatments, preventative measures and other positive medical developments.
Statistics indicate that the most common form of cancer among women living in the Arab world is breast cancer with Qatar ranked with the third highest number of cases behind Bahrain and Kuwait. Dr Khalid estimates that that there are two to three breast cancer patients being identified every week in Qatar. The society helps to pay for cancer treatments for those who cannot afford and continues campaigns for promoting regular check-ups, screening and raising breast cancer awareness.
Importantly, the society’s outreach programmes ensure that cancer patients and survivors including their families are informed to help alleviate distress and hardship and best facilitate recovery through rehabilitation. This increased awareness through active discussion and focused research is implicit in the fight against cancer in Qatar with the society also engaging Qatari corporations to support individuals and society for the greater common good.
The QCS operates solely through donations. Qatargas, for example, supports cancer-related research in the area of stem cell and brain tumour treatments though the US-based Children’s Brain Tumour Foundation (CBTF), which actively supports the society. Recently, Dr Khalid was honoured for his work at a special ceremony hosted by CBTF in New York.
Dr Khalid is righty proud of what the QCS has brought to Qatar and the region. When the state-of-the-art Al Amal Oncology Hospital opened, it was the first of its kind to secure first-class medical treatment for cancer patients in Qatar.
“We helped in the creation of Al Amal which was very much our baby and it was named based upon our recommendation as in Arabic “amal” means hope,” says Dr Khalid, who is hopeful that the hospital will not change its name to the Qatar Cancer Centre, given the negative connotations of the ‘C’ word among people and patients.
Dr Khalid continues to play a pivotal role in raising cancer awareness through active public information programmes for both healthcare professionals and the general public focusing on early detection, survival and recovery.
“I want to do much more. It has to be a unified approach led by the society and I am talking about raising the awareness of people in improving the quality of the life of the people,” he says.
“We have Al Amal Oncology Hospital and HMC and other institutions but of vital importance and my primary focus is the task of encouraging people to have early screening and to participate in early detection programmes and improve lifestyles with regular exercise.
“Cancer is on the increase in Qatar and across the Middle East. A decade ago in the West there were about 450 cancer cases per 100,000 population whereas Qatar used to have about 92 cases. The West has now dropped to 300 cases per 100,000 whilst we are now running at 120 to 130 so we are going up and the West is going down.
“Amongst women, breast cancer is the main killer across the world. For men, it is lung cancer and in the main this can be attributed to smoking. For women there is thyroid cancer which is increasing and for men we have liver cancer and also prostate cancer. Better screening is affordable and more cost-effective than the treatment. If one patient gets to stage two or three in breast cancer, for example, then it would cost the exactly the same amount to screen 2,000 to 3,000 women to prevent the disease.”
Dr Khalid also sits on the board of the Shafallah Centre for Children with Special Needs and is in charge of its Genetics Centre. He also serves as the chairman of the Qatar Foundation for the Elderly and was recently honoured with the outstanding Angel Ball Award for humanitarian and philanthropic contributions to cancer research in recognition of his contribution to healthcare development.