Behind the elegant French colonial-style exterior of the National Cancer Hospital in Hanoi, the capital of Vietnam, a battle is raging. In the hospitals crowded wards, treatment rooms and corridors, doctors are struggling against a powerful and insidious enemy: cancer. And right now the disease is winning.
Each year in this country of 84 million as many as 75,000 people die of cancer and another 150,000 new cases are diagnosed. Figures are expected to rise a further 25 percent by 2020. Among the reasons: environmental pollution, changing lifestyles and diets, and increased longevity.
Health Care Only for Some
But Vietnams health system is ill-equipped to meet the demands. "We lack the capacity," says Dr. Tran Van Thuan, Vice Director of the National Cancer Hospital. "Right now we have only two cancer centres; one in Hanoi in the north and one in Ho Chi Minh City in the south. This means we can meet only 10% of the countrys cancer needs."
At the same time, low cancer awareness results in around 80% of patients seeking help only when the disease is at an advanced stage and therefore difficult to treat. This is particularly true in rural areas where health education is lacking and, for most people, medical check-ups are an unaffordable luxury.
Nguyen Thi Xuong, 50, a farmer from Ha Tinh province, about 450 kilometers south of Hanoi, first felt a lump in her breast in 2006. "It wasnt painful, so I didnt think it was anything serious. Anyway, I didnt have any health insurance," Xuong recalls. "I just hoped it would go away."
It didnt. Eighteen months later, when the lump had reached the size of a plum, Xuong borrowed money and started a cancer journey which ended at the National Cancer Hospital. The diagnosis: advanced breast cancer. The treatment: radical mastectomy, followed by chemotherapy, then 25 fractions of radiotherapy spread over five weeks.
Women Most at Risk
|Contact: Angela Leuker|
International Atomic Energy Agency