Best of Oncology 2008, Jeddah, Saudi Arabia

26 Feb 2009

An astonishing 1500 oncologists and cancer nurses are attending a three day update meeting , in a very crowded Jeddah, crowded because half of Riyadh has decamped during the school half term to see the sea, and to visit Mecca. Also astonishing is that the cancer conference is free of charge, despite the all star international panel of speakers, thanks to brilliant organisation by the King Faisal Oncology team in Jeddah.

Very high quality meeting, well tuned to the needs of cancer patients in Saudi and the region, and totally non political. The main giveaway, that indicates this is an Islam country is that all the women, 60% of the participants, sit at one side of the lecture theatres, separated from the men by a curtain, and suitably clad in black.

A curious flash of white lab coats, worn over the black robes, breaks the monotony, as does sharp and apposite questioning from the women behind the burkas. Strong emphasis here on quality of life issues, and all the high tech stuff is appropriately greeted with scepticism and vigorous discussion on cost effectiveness. Oncology is in good shape here in Saudi, but stretched by a steep rise in incidence of cancer, paralleled by smoking dependence, aging of the population, and serious problems of obesity at all ages.

It seems that the Middle East is properly committed to progressing cancer research. The King Abdullah Economic City is a huge new city being built in the middle of the desert and will include the latest technologies for oncology research and development. They are looking for advice on research at least, to the European Institute of Oncology in Milan.

Respected academics such as Prof David Kerr from Oxford are also heading East. He has just taken a new post as Chief Research Adviser for the Sidra Medical and Research Centre (SIDRA) in Qatar. ( This will be a state-of-the-art, all-digital academic medical centre which offer specialty care over a spectrum of disease. It will encompass three essential missions:

  • World-class clinical care
  • Medical education
  • Biomedical research

Sidra will be funded by a US$7.9 billion endowment from , the largest endowment of a medical and research centre anywhere in the world.

Watch out China seems like The Middle East is gaining ground!