Nadeem Alizai: Comment
KABUL: Officials in the public health ministry proudly provide data about cancer patients in the world but when one ask them about data regarding Afghans suffering from the deadly disease, they become down in the mouth. Absence of complete and correct data raises some serious questions such as how the ministry designs anti-cancer drives when it lacks the required information, and how they approach international community for donations. Another question that makes many to ponder over is fate of the seminars and awareness walks on the World Cancer day. Are these conferences proving fruitful? The obvious answer that comes to mind is that officials are trying to fight many forms of cancer only with statements.
The ground for this answer to stands on is the statements of Afghan officials in such conferences. In a recent seminar held in Kabul a few days ago in connection with the World Cancer Day the Minister of Public Health said that 16,000 cancer patients die every year while estimated survival rate is 20 percent. In the same seminar Advisor on Women and Youth Affairs to the chief executive officer, Habiba Sarabi, said that annually 15,000 Afghans loss their lives battling cancer. The sharp contrast proves that there is no database in Afghanistan that could provide exact and up-to-date information to public, researchers, media and donors. Most of the data is provided by the World Health Organization (WHO) which has no or little access to public in different parts of the country due to insecurity. Therefore, relying on the inconclusive data provided by the WHO is itself a serious question and tell volumes about effectiveness of our national health policies and programs.
Whether believe it or not, but we cannot eliminate cancer until we know about its causes. We discuss only few causes that might have no relevance to Afghanistan. We should see the life-taking disease from own perspective to find out the real cause, otherwise the percentage of cancer patients will grow. Lung and breast cancer are thought to be the most widespread forms of the deadly disease in the world. Astonishingly, no one knows about exact cause of the breast cancer, but smoking is considered major cause of the lung cancer. If one goes through the data about lung cancer he would be surprised to know that it is not only tobacco but certain other elements are there that are responsible more for causing lung cancer. Let’s have a bird’s eye view of the data in this regard shared by the Cancer Support Group in the country. Lung cancer claims lives of 86, 380 men and 71,660 women per year in the world. If the two figures are added it would produce a total of 158,040 including both groups. Hence, 45.3 per cent females suffer from lung cancer in the world. Now the mind-boggling question that comes forth after analyzing the data is that why women in such a large number want to compete with the opposite gender through smoking or chewing tobacco?
At this point womenfolk would jump and say that smoking is not major cause of cancer in women. I agree, because they are right. So if they are right and many think so, then why we are not looking at the other side of the picture. If we look we will find that another main cause of cancer, air pollution, has been ignored for so many long years by the Afghan authorities. According to the WHO, air pollution is now a carcinogen (cancer-causing agent) causes lung cancer. Air pollution not only includes industry, burning of fossil fuel, transport and firewood usage but also dust. Since we know about it then why the Afghan government is not taking it seriously, despite the fact that air and water pollution are affecting every citizen.
Environmentalists believe that air in Kabul is not fit for breathing due to high volume of pollutants. It is feared that air in the capital city would be declared hazardous if the authorities remain adamant and fail to take measures on war-footing. There is need for a comprehensive campaign to reduce number of vehicles, use of fossil fuel and keep our environment clean and green. Afforestation and reforestation is need of the hour.
So, one thing is clear that we cannot fight cancer with statements alone. Definitely, we need a whole range of solutions. Our failure to ponder over this serious health issue would result in irreversible consequences. Therefore, we are left with two options, either continue breathing the polluted air or collectively address this challenge with practical steps. From my point of view, it is better to breathe fresh air rather than putted on a mechanical ventilator in a stressed intensive care unit of a hospital that is not better from a prison cell at all but worst in many cases.