Under the patronage and presence of the Minister of Public Health Dr. Jamil Jabbak

Ministry of Health launches the first national campaign to raise awareness on colon cancer and urges citizens to undergo FIT screening for prevention and early detection of colon cancer

Beirut, Lebanon – 2019: Under the patronage and presence of the Minister of Public Health Dr. Jamil Jabbak, the Ministry of Public Health launched the first national campaign to raise awareness around colon cancer, in cooperation with Merck Sharp and Dom, the Syndicate of Physicians, the Syndicate of Pharmacists, the Syndicate of Hospitals, the Lebanese Association of Oncologists and Medical Laboratory Owners In Lebanon. The press conference held on Friday, March 15th at the Ministry of Health, was attended by a number of political, security and social actors as well as health professionals and media representatives.

The campaign aims to increase the awareness of colon cancer, one of the most common cancers in Lebanon, and the second leading cause of death among women and the fourth in men. The illness can be prevented before it occurs and has a recovery rate of up to 90%, if detected in its early stages. Therefore, every person who reaches the age of 50 should undergo the FIT test (if there is no family history) every year for prevention and early detection of this silent disease. In case of its existence in the family, examination by a doctor is necessary so that further screenings can take place.

The conference started with the Lebanese national anthem, which was followed by the speech of the head of the National Committee for the Prevention of Colorectal Cancer, Dr. Walid Ammar, who said: “We have formed a national committee of all concerned authorities to study the options available to fight colon cancer. The committee has worked hard in order to give out tips to all doctors, which could lead to an early detection of the cancer. The Syndicate of Doctors will circulate these recommendations to all doctors of all specialties to unite efforts in order to fight the disease. In addition to that, the Syndicate of Pharmacists and the Association of Hospital Owners in collaboration with Libanpost, will distribute educational material to all pharmacies and hospitals in all Lebanese regions to be sent out to citizens. More than 200,000 pamphlets will be distributed. This booklet was issued with the support of the World Health Organization, which is an example of the cooperation of all those concerned “.

Representing the Lebanese Association of Gastroenterology, Dr. Alaa Sharara presented a technical overview on the importance of early detection of colon cancer, during which he said: “The FIT is the examination approved by the Ministry of Public Health after being passed through the National Committee, due to its availability in hospitals and laboratories in Lebanon, its ease and low cost. If the test result is positive, consult a doctor as soon as possible for a colonoscopy to detect the cause of blood in the faeces.” He ended his speech with: “Early detection saves lives.”

On this occasion, Mrs. Hana Nemr, President of Said organization said: “We are the only civil society organization in Lebanon that is specialized in raising awareness on the early detection of colon cancer, through lectures in all Lebanese regions. To date, 130 activities have been organized in cooperation with municipalities, hospitals and schools. These activities have directly affected 8,000 people of all ages. A total of 1200 free FIT tests were performed and 95 colonoscopy procedures were performed, by the association, to anyone whose results were positive.”

Okan Isikci, Managing Director of pharmaceutical company MSD in the Levant highlighted the importance of Public-Private Partnership and the significant impact it can achieve in advancing public health. He said Public-Private Partnership is considered one of the most effective ways to address healthcare challenges in the society today, capitalizing on the expertise of the public and private sectors to find new and more effective solutions for better health. By taking a shared value approach in initiatives such as the colon cancer awareness campaign with Lebanese health authorities, Okan said the country created a better opportunity for success in tackling high disease burdens in Lebanon. Finally, Okan expressed MSD’s continued commitment to saving and improving lives of patients and communities in Lebanon and its constant readiness to cooperate with health authorities to elevate the Lebanese health sector to the highest standards.

In his turn, the head of the Doctors’ Syndicate Dr. Raymond Sayegh, said: “We are launching a comprehensive campaign for the early detection of colorectal cancer, with the participation of the Syndicate of Physicians, which is always present in its pioneering role in the medical and scientific fields through scientific societies active in monitoring the disease and the medicine.” He continued: “All doctors from all specialties are concerned in raising awareness among the individuals, from the pediatrician, to the family doctor all the way to the direct specialist. The responsibility to guide people on what to do falls on the shoulders of doctors from all fields. They carry the consultative status, which requires the intervention of a specialized doctor when necessary. These interventions are usually successful in the early stages and could keep us as far as possible from the disease getting worse.”

Dr. Jamil Jabbak, Minister of Public Health, announced that the Rafik Hariri hospital will be presenting 1000 free FIT exams to those benefiting from the Ministry of Public Health’s services (those without insurance). This grant is provided by Fuji Film International.

He added: “Health awareness is a pre-emptive duty, which is at the highest level of importance, as it’s a great way of safeguarding the health and lives of citizens and alleviating their human and financial suffering over the years, especially given the difficult realities we live in. This is the first time that the Ministry of Public Health has launched a national campaign to raise awareness on colon cancer, something that was deemed necessary given the increasing numbers of patients and the unfortunate delayed detection of this cancer. For example, the Ministry of Public Health treats about 330 patients, annually, at a cost of about two and a half billion Lebanese pounds, just for medicines. In 2017, 436 patients received treatment for their colon cancer at hospitals, and the number of hospital admissions reached 1,253 at a cost of LBP 1 billion and LBP 400 million. If we compare the price of medicines only with the price of prevention screening and early detection, we find that the average price of medicines per patient is about $ 5000 per year compared to 20$ (Maximum) for early detection by FIT. If followed by a colonoscopy, the cost reaches around $300. For this reason, early detection would be the smartest choice in such situations. ”

At the end of the conference, an educational film prepared by the Ministry of Health, was screened, urging citizens to carry out FIT examinations every year. The movie was titled “A sample could save you from Colon Cancer, as long as you carry out the FIT exam.” The movie shows the importance of the examination, its active role in preventing the disease and how it increases the rate of recovery in the event of early detection.

This campaign is part of the many other awareness partnerships carried out by the Ministry of Health, on an ongoing basis, to show the Lebanese people how important it is that they take care of their health.