BANDAR SERI BEGAWAN (Borneo Bulletin/Asia News Network): In Brunei Darussalam, 335 children aged 0-19 years were diagnosed with cancer between 2002 and 2021.
Data from the Hospital Based Cancer Registry showed an increase in the number of children (0-12 years) diagnosed with cancer, going from 61 cases from 2000-2009 to 117 cases from 2010-2022.
Despite the increase, the cancer mortality rate in the same period had dropped from 31.25 per cent to 27 per cent.
Minister of Health Dato Seri Setia Dr Mohd Isham Jaafar highlighted this during the Childhood Cancer and Thalassaemia Awareness Day 2022 at Times Square Shopping Centre on Sunday (Sept 25), adding that the most common types of cancer among children are leukaemia and brain cancer.
Meanwhile, “thalassaemia is a red blood cell genetic disease that causes the body to lack haemoglobin blood cells that carry oxygen throughout the body”, the minister said.
“As a genetic disease, it is passed down to child from a parent carrying the thalassaemia gene. People with major thalassaemia require life-long treatment. The usual treatment provided is monthly blood transfusion and iron removal treatment,” he explained.
There are currently 64 thalassaemia patients requiring blood transfusion in the Sultanate.
“Treatment for children with cancer and thalassaemia has progressed significantly, leading to an increase in the survival rate. Cancer patients are now reaching adulthood, but they may face late effects from the treatments undergone. One of the main side effects is fatigue, which can lead to sedentary behaviour and low levels of physical activity.
“Additionally, research has shown that only a small number of children with cancer and thalassaemia survivors practice nutritious or balanced diets. This can contribute to obesity and cardiovascular disease, especially in the ‘survivor’ group of children cancer,” Dato Seri Setia Dr Mohd Isham said.
Citing the International Pediatric Oncology Exercise Guidelines (International Exercise Guidelines for Oncology), he said, “Cancer patients are recommended to undergo 20- to 60-minute aerobic and strength training sessions as many as three times a week.
"Meanwhile, thalassaemia patients are advised to walk at least 30 minutes daily. Movement and exercise are important for the healthy development of children and adolescents with chronic diseases.”
Movement and exercise are safe, providing benefits such as improved quality of life, cardio respiratory fitness and protect against obesity, cardiovascular disease, diabetes and high blood pressure.
Living a healthy lifestyle can also protect them from the late effects of cancer treatment.
The Childhood Cancer and Thalassaemia Awareness Day 2022 aims to raise awareness on thalassemia, and encourages the public to get screened for the condition should they have a thalassaemia family member. This will allow individuals to determine their thalassaemia status, especially before marriage or starting a family, and to seek advice as preparation.
“The Ministry of Health (MoH) stands firm in its commitment to provide the best treatment to children with cancer.
"The patients are treated at the Raja Isteri Pengiran Anak Saleha (RIPAS) Hospital, where there is a special ward for child cancer patients and the afforded treatment protocol is in accordance with international standards.
"All children (citizens and permanent residents of Brunei Darussalam) have free access to cancer treatment, and referrals abroad – under the sponsorship of the Brunei Government – for maximum level treatment unavailable here, such as stem cell transplantation.
“The care quality process is monitored using KPS efficiency and timeliness that include ensuring newly-diagnosed patients receive in-patient treatment within two weeks of diagnosis, and patients admitted with neutropenic fever receive antibiotics within two hours of arrival at the hospital.
"Additionally, the Hospital Based Cancer Registry was established with the aim of evaluating cancer care in hospitals,” Dato Seri Setia Dr Haji Mohd Isham said.
The minister’s spouse, Datin Dr Noraslinah Ramlee, Acting Deputy Permanent Secretary (Policy and Management) at the MoH Dr Anie Haryani Abdul Rahman, Children’s Cancer Foundation (YASKA) Advisor Dr Norehan Johari and YASKA President Haji Mohd Suffian Zainal Abidin also attended.
The highlight of the day was a BND3,200 donation hand over from Borneo Insider’s Guide (BIG) Magazine to YASKA. The minister and his spouse later mingled with young cancer survivors and Thalassaemia patients.
Childhood cancer awareness month is recognised every September to raise support, funding and awareness of childhood cancer.
With one in three childhood cancer survivors experiencing chronic health conditions in adulthood, the awareness day this year focusses primarily on encouraging greater physical activities and exercise among children affected by cancer and thalassaemia.
The event included a blood drive, exhibition booths and various activities encouraging children to move more.
This year, Baiduri Bank officials volunteered to help out with activities.