The role of public-private partnerships in addressing the Gulf’s cancer challenge

Kuwait has highest economic burden of cancer at $79 per capita
The role of public-private partnerships in addressing the Gulf’s cancer challenge

Globally, the burden of cancer is growing, and the number of patients with the disease in the Gulf region is on the rise too. Beyond the headlines, we all know someone living with this disease that has far-reaching implications on people’s physical, emotional and financial well-being. It brings the issue much closer to home.

It is predicted that the number of cancer cases globally will increase to 28.4 million in 2040. Cancer does not discriminate and knows no boundaries, with an estimated one in five people worldwide expected to develop cancer during their lifetime.  Tragically, one in eight men and one in 11 women die from the disease each year.(1)

The region isn’t immune to the risk factors of cancer, which includes aging, family history, lifestyle habits and smoking. In fact, cancer continues to be the leading cause of morbidity and mortality in these countries. A UAE study found that almost half of all cancer cases in the country involved people aged under 50, which is five times higher than the UK and US. Research also showed that women in the UAE were more likely to get cancer, with 51.3 percent from the total number of new malignant cancer cases in 2017, compared with 38.3 percent in men. 

There’s also a significant and mounting economic toll that governments of Gulf countries have to battle because of cancer and, with it, the very pressing issue of rising medication and treatment costs for patients. Additionally, long-term disease management strains the healthcare infrastructure and resources. Kuwait has the highest economic burden of cancer at $79 (AED 290) per capita, of which 87% were direct costs. In the UAE, this is at about $43 per capita (AED 158), with the cost of treatment for patients going up to about $108,902 (AED  400,000) for chemotherapy.

This is a clear indication that there needs to be a combined effort between organizations and governments to raise awareness of risk factors and early detection, increase investment in research and healthcare infrastructure and enhance access and affordability to cancer care. This will allow us to make significant strides in combating the human and economic cost of this disease.

Time to turn the tide

Breast cancer is the most common cancer in the region. In the UAE alone, it represents about 21.4 percent of the total number of new cases registered, followed by thyroid cancer and then colon cancer.  The situation may look grim but also, reassuringly, the problem has been recognized and most Gulf countries are heavily investing in healthcare. The healthcare spending in GCC countries is expected to grow to $135.5 bn by 2027.  This underscores the strong action by governments on prevention, early detection, and effective management of pressing health issues.

Fighting cancer is a multifaceted challenge that requires concerted efforts from governments, healthcare organizations, communities, and individuals. People living with cancer do not have the luxury of time, so we need to collaborate to find a shield that can prevent and delay disease progression until we find a cure. All our initiatives must be aimed at closing the health equity gap, increasing patient literacy and providing greater access to healthcare innovation and breakthrough medicine for Gulf populations.

Public-private partnerships have a significant role to play in addressing the burden of disease. In the UAE, the ‘We the UAE 2031’ vision by the Emirates prioritizes world-class healthcare, preventive medicine and efforts to reduce cancer and other lifestyle-related diseases, such as diabetes and cardiovascular diseases in the country.

With that roadmap, Pfizer is involved in several public-private partnerships to recognize local health challenges, execute clinical trials and establish novel programs to find effective solutions that can impact millions. Last year, we renewed our partnerships with UAE-based cancer patient societies Friends of Cancer Patients (FoCP) and Emirates Oncology Society (EOS) to further their efforts to raise awareness, encourage early detection and support the treatment of cancer in the UAE. We also recently held a health conference with FoCP, EOS and the Gulf Federation of Cancer Control, which brought together healthcare professionals, industry leaders and patient association groups to discuss the importance of advancing health literacy of cancer patients.

Pfizer also has collaborations to improve the decision-making capabilities of screening providers in the region. One such partnership in the UAE is with biotechnology company Thermo Fisher Scientific to provide next-generation DNA testing for lung and breast cancer patients across the Middle East, empowering healthcare providers to select the right therapy for patients.


Similarly, Qatar’s National Health Strategy outlines targets to enhance the healthcare system and provide comprehensive and integrated care while improving healthcare outcomes and reducing health disparities. As part of those efforts, the government is increasingly placing more emphasis on partnerships with private entities and stakeholders to ensure the well-being of its population and the advancement of medical knowledge. As part of our commitment to support that goal, we launched IUdo, a mobile app for eligible patients in Qatar last year. The IUdo app by Pfizer allows patients on selected programs to access their medications, treatment plans and support directly from their phones. Such programs to increase affordability and accessibility for patients are also active in the UAE and Kuwait.

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Our approach to addressing the rising number of cancer cases in the region is multipronged with several active partnerships geared towards local evidence generation. Our ongoing real-world evidence projects with key institutions and societies in these countries utilize our global safety databases along with controlled trials to make the case for personalized cancer treatment solutions.

Tackling the problem together

Th rising burden of cancer on economies and people cannot be resolved alone. As rightly identified by many Gulf countries, public-private partnerships are instrumental in addressing these diseases by leveraging the strengths of both sectors.

These partnerships can contribute financial resources, technological innovation and specialized knowledge within the regulatory framework for efficient resource mobilization for maximum impact on patients across the country. The private sector also brings with it industry-specific knowledge and facilitates the sharing of best practices and evidence-based programs for more effective and targeted interventions.

Another important aspect of such partnerships is scalability and sustainability of initiatives. Governments can tap into private partners’ market research, distribution networks and supply chains, ensuring the availability and affordability of medicines, treatments and technologies to a broader population.

Public-private partnerships also further large-scale clinical trials and technological advancements. Such collaborations allow for the integration of innovative solutions and technologies in healthcare delivery, disease prevention and data analytics. This is necessary to enhance early detection, personalized interventions and remote monitoring of individuals at risk.

On the right track

Governments in Gulf countries have already started taking effective measures to fight cancer and alleviate their economic burden, and that of patients. Along with nationwide awareness programs and early detection education and programs, the joint effort of governments and private partners is key to addressing local health challenges and increasing access to cost-effective medicines and treatments. Our ultimate mission is to change people’s lives with medical breakthroughs, regardless of socioeconomic status, geographic location or other demographic factors. Through a comprehensive and multi-sectoral approach, we can create sustainable healthcare systems and improved access to care to achieve long-term improvements in health outcomes and support national goals of happier, healthier populations in the Gulf.

  Dr. Parmjot Bains, is Pfizer Gulf Cluster country manager.

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