Importance of cancer prevention in Egypt

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Published: 13 Dec 2011
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Prof Wagida Anwar - Pan-African Environmental Mutagen Society, Egypt

Prof Wagida Anwar discusses disease treatment and prevention on a community level. In Egypt there are many factors that contribute to cancer prevalence such as exhaust fumes, the influence of industrial areas and pesticide exposure. Egyptian cancer research is centred on disease treatment and not prevention. Prof Anwar stresses the importance of understanding how genetic and environmental factors interact to cause cancer and explains how reducing centralisation would benefit people’s health.

AORTIC 2011, Cairo, Egypt 30 November–2 December 2011


Importance of cancer prevention


Professor Wagida Anwar – Pan-African Environmental Mutagen Society, Egypt


Actually I’m a Professor of Community, Environmental and Occupational Medicine working at the Faculty of Medicine at Ain Shams University as a Chairman of the department. So, from the name of the department, our target is the community and we would like to prevent diseases in this community. So we would like to see what are the diseases, first, and then the causes of the diseases and then what can we do for prevention. So if we talk about environmental exposure, for example, we would like to know what are the environmental exposure conditions that a person is exposed. In Egypt, here, we have different exposure conditions like the traffic, as you see we are a very crowded city in Cairo, and we have cars and so the exhausts maybe sometimes come from cars which are not well maintained. So people are inhaling this and in the past it was leaded gasoline and now it’s unleaded and the burning process – hydrocarbons can come and so it is a social pollution.


We also have some industrial areas, sometimes it’s very close to the residential area so people may be exposed to some pollutants. In addition there is pesticide exposure either in the field in rural areas or at home, these home kinds of pesticides to kill cockroaches and insects and so on. So in regular daily life we are exposed to several environmental factors, we would like to know what these are and to measure the amounts and to see what the effect is on health.


Is this an Egyptian government initiative?


It’s an international discipline, science, international organisations and many of the universities and the research institutions interested in this field, the effect of environmental pollution on health.


Is the air pollution in Cairo a problem?


Yes, and I think more important is if we talk about long-term planning for the city we should go outside Cairo. The crowdedness in one place will make a disaster for the health of the people so we should go outside. Egypt is a very big country, movement to the area for more development and dilution of this pollution can happen if we go away from the Nile valley.


Are there any initiatives to reduce the amount of traffic and congestion?


Since the people are living in this place and since all the governmental buildings are in the same place, all the big universities are in the same place so we should go out, away. People would like to go to work and come back home so they should use cars, or we encourage the public transportation. We need more attention for public transportation to be more accessible to people so that they can use it more frequently than their cars.


The causes for several diseases are either environmental causes or genetic causes. Now we are talking about the interaction between genetic factors and environmental factors and also the genetic susceptibility to the hazard or to the risk for these pollutants. So many, many kinds of research is needed to investigate how the mechanism for induction of cancer or different types of disease.


Are there any other challenges being faced?


The challenge is that now the science produced to us, the biomarkers produced to us, the new technology that we can use to know our problems, but the problem is that there is no encouragement to this kind of research in our countries. The priority goes for the disease itself, not the cause. If we have smoking and lung cancer, most of the budget goes for treatment of lung cancer and lung diseases and not for preventing smoking. So that’s why research in this area also has no attention. So we have the resources, the human resources, but we don’t have financial resources and attention from those policymakers to make this kind of research important.


Also, if we have the results from our research saying that a certain chemical is dangerous to our health, what are the regulations existing and how do they implement these regulations? So it is a series of actions needed, starting from research, ending in the application and regulations. In the planning of cities, usually the industrial area is separated from the residential area but because of the crowding they became closer. More attention to the population problem, we have a population problem, over-population, but I believe that the redistribution of the people can be a good solution and get benefit from our human resources.


Are the Egyptian government interested in this?


Egypt has a revolution these days so why do they have a revolution? Because they need to change. So I believe that there will be a lot of changes happening within the next… I will say ten years because time goes very quickly and the developmental projects take time. So I believe that they will have very short-term solutions for the evident problems but there will be longer term projects for the development and for movement from the valley. You will see, if you compare developing countries from developed countries, in developed countries environment is a priority but in developing countries environment is not a priority. Food and how to feed people and to feed animals is more important than to protect the environment.