World Haemophilia Day, marking 50 years of advancing treatment for all

Today, 17 April, is World Haemophilia Day, the day shining a spotlight on the global bleeding disorders community. This year, 2013, marks ’50 Years of Advancing Treatment for All’.

To quote Wikipedia, haemophilia “is a group of hereditary genetic disorders that impair the body’s ability to control blood clotting or coagulation, which is used to stop bleeding when a blood vessel is broken.” The most common type, Haemophilia A, occurs in about 1-2 in 10 000 male births, while Haemophilia B is about half as common. Both forms are more likely to occur in males than females. It is a recessive sex-linked, X chromosome disorder, and since females have two X chromosomes while men have only one, the defective gene will manifest itself in every male who carries it, while it may not manifest itself in a female carrier.

Everybody bleeds, but while this is may be a minor issue for most of us, it can be a matter of life and death for those suffering from haemophilia. (© All Rights Reserved)
Everybody bleeds, but while this is may be a minor issue for most of us, it can be a matter of life and death for those suffering from haemophilia.
(© All Rights Reserved)

People suffering from haemophilia do not bleed more vigorously than a healthy person, but they are likely to bleed longer due to the lack of coagulation or blood clotting. Thus even a rather minor injury can result in excessive blood loss. In some injuries, such as injuries to the brain, and injuries to the insides of the joints, this can be fatal or permanently debilitating.

No cure yet exists for haemophilia, but it can be treated with regular infusion into the body of the deficient clotting factor. Sufferers also have to adapt their lifestyles and activities to minimise injury risk. Exercises to strengthen the joints, and to increase flexibility, tone and muscle strength are also recommended. There are indications that hypnosis and self-hypnosis may have some effectiveness at reducing the severity and duration of bleeding, but much investigation is still required in this regard.

As with many diseases and disorders, haemophilia impacts most severely on people living in developing countries, people who do not have access to proper care and/or treatment. It is estimated that globally 75% of people living with bleeding disorders receive very inadequate treatment, or no treatment at all, with the majority of these people living in the developing world.

Through World Haemophilia Day, it is hoped that increased awareness and support can be gained for people living with bleeding disorders, and that this can help inch us closer to the goal of quality treatment for all.

Debunking myths on World Cancer Day

Today, 4 February, is World Cancer Day, the international day to raise awareness about cancer. This is a little confusing, since later in the year we also celebrate Daffodil Day, which has a very similar goal. Considering the impact of cancer on the human race, however, I suppose this is one topic that deserves a couple of days in the year.

Cancer prevention strategies can include some very basic, everyday tips, like promoting the use of sunblock before venturing into the sun.
Cancer prevention strategies can include some very basic, everyday tips, like promoting the use of sunblock before venturing into the sun.
Note: The yellow Livestrong wristband is a popular symbol, and fundraising item, of the Livestrong Foundation (formerly the Lance Armstrong Foundation until it changed it’s name folliowing Armstrong’s doping scandal in late 2012). Despite the famous cyclist’s recent fall from grace, there’s no denying the huge contributions made during his professional career, towards cancer research and awareness creation, as well as providing support and inspiration for many living with cancer.
(© All Rights Reserved)

There is a minor focus difference between World Cancer Day and Daffodil Day – where the latter has a specific focus on raising funds to support cancer research, World Cancer day is all about awareness creation, and busting some of the myths that still exist around the disease.

Specifically, the World Cancer Day website lists 4 common cancer myths, ranging from general societal misconceptions to very personal issues:

Myth 1: Cancer is just a health issue

Truth: Cancer is not just a health issue. It has wide-reaching social, economic, development, and human rights implications.

As such, it is critical that interventions addressing the prevention and control of cancer need to be included in the wider post-2015 global development goals. By spreading the responsibility to address cancer control beyond the health sector, there is a better chance that all the relevant challenges (at individual and community level) can be addressed.

Global policies, however, are not enough – real investments are needed as part of national, country specific cancer control interventions.

Myth 2: Cancer is a disease of the wealthy, elderly and developed countries

Truth: Cancer is a global epidemic. It affects all ages and socio-economic groups, with developing countries bearing a disproportionate burden.

This is a no-brainer, really – cancer does not discriminate. If anything, the poor and disenfranchised are hit harder by the disease, and more often than not get sicker and die sooner as a result of cancer. Therefore cancer prevention and control policies and funding must be equally non-discriminatory, with interventions made available to everyone – rich and poor, young and old, in both the developed and the developing world.

Myth 3: Cancer is a death sentence

Truth: Many cancers that were once considered a death sentence can now be cured and for many more people, their cancer can be treated effectively.

To achieve this, however, strategies need to be put in place to facilitate cancer control measures such as breast and cervical cancer screening, as well as improved access to cancer services including medicines and other treatment solutions such as radiotherapy.

Myth 4: Cancer is my fate

Truth: With the right strategies, a third of the most common cancers can be prevented.

Of all treatment strategies, prevention remains the most cost-effective way of reducing the global cancer burden. This not only includes putting in place early detection systems, but also implementing programmes that reduce the level of exposure to risk factors and promoting healthy lifestyle choices.

Another critical prevention strategy is improved knowledge dissemination – helping people understand the risk factors as well as ways of addressing these.

More info

For more information on the above myths about cancer and its control and prevention, have a look at the fact sheets prepared by the Union for International Cancer Control (UICC). General background information on World Cancer Day 2013 and the UICC is available here.