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Belgium targets cancer and chronic diseases with new unit

8 months ago 36

The Walloon Health Minister, Christie Morreale, recently inaugurated a new specialised unit as part of a prevention-focused initiative to tackle cancer and chronic diseases in light of data showing that in Belgium, one in four adults live with a chronic condition.

The Walloon region of Belgium has taken a step towards addressing cancer and chronic diseases by establishing a specialised unit within the AViQ (the Walloon Agency for a Quality Life) to study the behavioural and cultural aspects of these diseases.

Morreale inaugurated this unit in October, and highlighted the importance of prevention in mitigating these diseases. She explained the challenges faced regarding cancer screening in the region.

“Walloons remain insensitive to our screening campaigns”, she said, adding the new unit will “improve the effectiveness” of screening campaigns to have a more significant impact on preventing cancers and other chronic illnesses.

European approach

The project, part of the EU4Health 2021-2027 program initiated by the European Executive Agency for Health and Digital Affairs (HaDEA), will primarily focus on reducing the prevalence of cancer and other chronic diseases by addressing individual and societal risk factors.

The effort aims to promote collaboration between EU member states for comprehensive disease prevention with funding comprising 80% from EU institutions and 20% from Wallonia.

The specialised unit will consist of three distinct profiles; A public health coordinator specialising in health policies, an expert in behavioural sciences, a psychologist or sociologist, and a specialist in social research and experimental methodology.

Current systems are working to improve cancer prevention and care.  This includes the Cancer Centre hosted by Sciensano, which monitors progress and provides scientific advice in alignment with Europe’s Beating Cancer Plan.

The federated entities are responsible for organising cancer screening programs, with each region focusing on specific types of cancer.

For example, the Flemish government handles programs for colorectal, cervical, and breast cancers, while the Walloon government has implemented colorectal and breast cancer screening programs. In Brussels, breast and colorectal cancer screening programs are also in place.

Health challenges in Belgium

It is estimated that “one in four adults” in Belgium are living with a chronic condition.

Notably, there are significant disparities in cancer diagnosis rates across different regions. In Wallonia, there is a higher incidence of lung and liver cancers than in Flanders, which can be primarily attributed to behavioural factors, as per findings from the Belgium Encyclopaedia of Science (EoS) Cancer Atlas.

The study found cities such as Liège and Charleroi typically have the highest cancer rates.

“The high percentage of smokers, industrial and air pollution and radon exposure… lead to a peak in lung cancer,” EoS highlights. Furthermore, “alcohol abuse, poor diet, and reduced access to health care lead to more liver cancers.”

The World Health Organisation says, “30–50% of all cancer cases are preventable.” This new unit aims to understand the complex interplay of these health behaviours to guide Wallonia in developing further effective prevention strategies.

[By Caoimhe Kelly – Edited by Vasiliki Angouridi | Euractiv.com]

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