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Health planners discuss national guidelines & standards for the management of gynaecological cancers

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Monday, June 20, 2005 - With cancer ranking number one among the ten leading causes of death on the island, the Ministry of Health, Human Services, Family Affairs and Gender Relations has teamed up with the Organization of Eastern Caribbean States (OECS) Secretariat and the French Technical Department to put in place national standards and guidelines on the way forward.

A two-day regional workshop held last week focusing on gynaecological cancers – namely cancers of the cervix, ovary, endometrial and breast - health planners are hoping to fine tune their approaches in combating cancers common to women. Chief Medical Officer Dr. Stephen King says the new guidelines, once finalized, will become the benchmark by which medical practitioners will be judged.

“We have a lot of initiatives occurring in health at this moment and in some ways they frighten us, seeing that we are not too sure as to how to handle them all. We are currently juggling about 22 balls in the air and every now and then we seem to be dropping one or two,” says Dr. King.

Dr King indicated that what presently obtained was unacceptable “you cannot continue to practice medicine in an ad hoc manner. It must be done in an organized, proper, standard, evidence base manner. This is our commitment at the Ministry of Health and this week’s activity is how we begin to deliver on that.”

An estimated 471,000 new cases of cervical cancer are diagnosed each year with 80 percent of those occurring in the developing world. In Saint Lucia for the period 1998-2002, the annual crude incidence rate of cervical cancer was 38.9 per 100,000 translating to 31 new cases per year. With more and more Saint Lucians seeking specialized medical treatment in neighbouring Martinique, the OECS Secretariat has been collaborating with French officials to put mechanisms in place to better facilitate the process.
“There is no doubt that this workshop on the development of national guidelines and standards for the management of gynaecological cancers will lead to a substantial improvement in the quality of care provided to our patients,” notes OECS Health Advisor Dr. Jean-Charles Dubourg. He says nevertheless there still remain some constraints to receiving adequate treatment of cancers in OECS countries. This he thought was particularly due to the lack of access to radiotherapy treatment. According to Dr. Dubourg, “In this regard we anticipate that the Government of Saint St. Lucia will take the necessary steps to make this treatment available within the new general hospital to be built in Castries in the coming months.”

Although not part of the original design for the proposed new multi million dollar hospital to be constructed along the Millennium Highway, health officials say dialogue continues concerning the establishment of an OECS radiotherapy centre for cancer treatment.

A similar national workshop to develop guidelines for cancers affecting the male population will be convened later in the year.

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