Cancer has a way of touching just about everyone, at a certain point in time, either directly or indirectly. Throughout my work I have witnessed how cancer has touched upon our family members, friends and people close to our hearts – who have either suffered from cancer or have passed away because of the disease. 

With 3.7 million new cases and 1.9 million deaths each year, cancer represents the second most prevalent cause of death in Europe, according to the World Health Organization. For such a small country, Malta’s cancer figures are also of major concern. There are approximately 2,000 new cancer cases and 900 deaths due to cancer each year. 

World Cancer Day is an opportunity to reflect more about cancer and create more awareness. It is an opportunity to remember how far we have come in raising greater awareness about the risk of cancer.  

Initiatives such as Pink-October, among many others, aim to make a difference for all those affected by cancer. It is our duty as policymakers, to raise awareness about various forms of cancer, its prevention and treatment. Above all else, it is our duty to take concrete action to fight cancer and offer hope, strength, encouragement and inspiration to those touched by cancer or assisting patients and their families. 

I was particularly touched by the story of Kane Debattista, the little champion who stole the hearts of so many Maltese people, and to whom I express my warmest wishes for a speedy recovery. 

His story reminds us how instrumental NGOs are in helping patients and their families and how much we need to invest in paediatric cancer research. 

Having visited the laboratories of scientists and researchers who focus on advancing the scientific knowledge about the causes, cures and prevention of different types of cancer, at the University of Malta, made me realise the positive steps being done through research. 

We need to invest more in research if we really want to find a cure for cancer, especially in the case of children where cancer is rare. At the European Parliament we have asked for the EU budget allocation for research to increase from €77 to €120 billion. 

Funding should also continue to be available to support the research and treatment of children with cancer. 

We also need to facilitate cooperation between different universities, research institutes and medical centres across Europe to fight cancer collectively.

We cannot give up and have no other option other than to step up our fight in all possible manners

Speaking of NGOs, I have met several of them over the past months including Europa Donna, Hospice Malta, Puttinu Cares, Karl Vella Foundation, Malta Health Network and the Action for Breast Cancer Foundation. I have invited several NGOs to participate in policy debates on cancer held at EU level to shape EU policy. 

Thanks to the support of President Marie-Louise Coleiro Preca, the Malta Cancer Platform will become affiliated to the European Cancer League, a network of European cancer platforms to exchange good practices, shape EU policy and ensure further high-quality support to cancer patients and their families during and after they have completed their treatment.

I feel honoured that I could set in motion this process and facilitate the required meetings.

From a legislative perspective, at the European Parliament we have taken an important decision to make the workplace cancer free. The exposure limits of 21 substances considered to be mutagens or carcinogens have been revised. I have recently been involved on behalf of the EPP Group in the process of revising the permitted exposure of five other substances found in various work places including sectors such as construction, labs, electronics and waste management. 

To further commit myself to the fight against cancer I have joined the MEPs Against Cancer group. In the past days we have launched a manifesto that included feedback from Maltese stakeholders. 

Our main policy pillars are prevention and more access to screening, ensuring access to high quality treatments and medicine, high-quality research, improving care and involving patients and cancer NGOs in health policy decision making. 

I believe that a healthier Europe is possible. On World Cancer Day let us reaffirm our determination to promote the well-being of our citizens, and our commitment to fight cancer. 

Cancer has touched so many families and friends. We cannot give up and have no other option other than to step up our fight in all possible manners. Only by doing so will we be able to reach our ambitious target of eradicating cancer within 20 years from now. 

This is the target that the European People’s Party, of which I am privileged to form part, is setting itself as one of the most important priorities of our work within the European Parliament. 

Ultimately in our political work, we must focus on what really matters and makes a difference in our lives. That is why health issues in general and dealing with cancer in particular will be at the forefront of what we stand for and will remain committed to.

Francis Zammit Dimech is an MEP.

This is a Times of Malta print opinion piece

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