Civil society plays a key role.

Civil society addresses gaps in cancer care. REUTERS PIC

WE refer to the letter ‘Waging war on cancer’ (NST, Aug 1). The Health Ministry welcomes the War on Cancer initiative that was recently launched by professional groups, civil society and the academia.

Civil society — non-governmental and non-business organisations as well as individuals and communities — has an important role in highlighting the cancer agenda in the country via a bottoms-up approach.

The role of civil society in non-communicable disease (NCD) movements has been described as weak in some literature. However, there have been instances where civil society has had influential roles in improving health outcomes, for example, in tobacco control in Australia.

These roles range from being watchdogs to advocacy, and to holding the public and private sectors accountable. We need to leverage the expertise and advocacy skills of civil society to combat industry influence (for example, tobacco industries) to prevent tobacco-related NCD, including cancer.

In Malaysia, cancer-related civil societies are doing much in supporting patients and carers in their cancer journey, and addressing gaps within the spectrum of cancer care. However, previous efforts of civil society have been largely fragmented. Working individually, the impact of their work may appear relatively small.

The War on Cancer platform, which brings together civil society, including the academia and professional groups, is welcomed to align with the civil society community.

This consolidated platform will, hopefully, create meaningful involvement at the national level to combat cancer. Being united under the “War on Cancer” banner, this group of organisations and individuals will be able to leverage each other’s strengths to increase their ability to influence cancer-related policies in the country.

Evidence shows that most types of cancer are preventable. Much still needs to be done, particularly in cancer prevention. We need civil society to strengthen leadership and advocacy, and influence politicians to drive hard policy decisions in creating a health-enabling environment.

Our living environment is not only “obesogenic” but also “carcinogenic”. Malaysians are continually exposed to NCD risk factors, including cancers, both known and unknown.

To achieve cancer prevention goals, we need a multipronged approach, through healthcare providers, regulatory changes, and modification of individual and community behaviours.

The Health Ministry continues to strengthen the cancer prevention and control programme, through the implementation of the National Strategic Plan for Cancer Control Programme 2016-2020.



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