When most mothers were eagerly anticipating their two-year-old's first words, Princess Dina Mired of Jordan and her young son were flying back and forth to Boston.
Her son was diagnosed with leukemia in 1997. There wasn’t any form of cancer care in Jordan at the time, so they traveled to Boston's Dana-Farber Cancer Institute.
Mired's son survived, and the experience got her thinking about the bigger picture of cancer care.
“I was very cognizant of the fact that others aren’t so lucky,” Mired said, about her access to the very best in cancer care. “There are other moms out there who love their children as much as I do. And it’s not fair that some people have the chance and some people don’t.”
The princess went on to be Director of the King Hussein Cancer Center (KHCC). The accredited regional institution, established 10 years ago, gives hope and first-rate care to 4,000 cancer patients all around the Middle Eastern region, from Yemen to Palestine.
Now a vocal advocate for quality cancer care in developing countries, Her Royal Highness visited Seattle last week to speak at the inaugural, Jill Bennett Endowed Lecture in Breast Cancer hosted by the Seattle Cancer Care Alliance. Other speakers included Bill Gates Sr., Seattle Cancer Care Alliance Breast Medical Oncology Director Dr. Julie Gralow, Dean of Harvard School of Public Health Dr. Julio Frenk and Harvard Medical School Associate Professor Felicia Knaul, PhD.
Upon arriving last Monday, princess Mired toured a number of local biomedical institutions and development organizations, including PATH, the Seattle Cancer Care Alliance and Seattle Children's Hospital. She was impressed by the level of collaboration among these organizations, all for the sake of the patients.
“Everything they do, from the Seattle Cancer Care Alliance to the Seattle Children's Hospital, is geared to making sure the patients have the best experience they can while they’re fighting cancer or other diseases,” Mired said. “We also made a list of other things, from a lovely playroom to the gift shop — all the little things geared toward servicing the patients.”
With nationally-renowned institutions such as PATH and the Gates Foundation, Seattle has a longstanding reputation as a global health and biomedical hub. But there hasn’t been much emphasis on cancer care in the global health arena. Non-communicable diseases such as cancer are often seen as a problem for developed countries; the health challenges associated with developing countries are more often communicable diseases such as malaria or tuberculosis.
“There’s a huge divide on cancer care between the developed and the developing world,” Mired said. “We need global health to encompass also actions towards non-communicable diseases, and not just think that the developing world is only struggling with malaria or tuberculosis — although they are also important. If you survive a communicable disease and suffer a non-communicable disease down the line, then all that effort goes to waste.”
According to Mired, a child with leukemia in a developed country has, on average, a 90 percent chance of getting treated. In Africa, that child has a 10 percent chance.
The issue of cancer care in global health is just starting to emerge for Seattle’s biomedical institutions, said Seattle Cancer Care's Julie Gralow. “Because [Seattle has] so many experts in global health, especially in infectious diseases and reproductive health, we are really poised to come together and work collaboratively,” she said.
What’s also unique about cancer care in Seattle is the diversity of organizations involved with the cause, according to Washington State’s Department of Health consultant Gauri Gupta, who attended the lecture last Wednesday. The region's network of biomedical institutions work very closely with each other and with the international health community. This, said Gupta, puts Seattle in a position to help bring cancer care into the global health discussion.
Princess Mired looks forward to more collaborations between Seattle’s biomedical institutions and the King Hussein Cancer Center, from joint research projects to internship opportunities for KHCC fellows.
“I would like to see more ‘quick-wins,’" she said, "practical things we can do towards global health — starting from exposing our fellows to the high-level of service you have here.”
Mired hopes there can be more medical sharing in the future, along with increased use of technology to access life-saving second opinions and other video conferences between institutions.
But there is one thing, without reservation, that princess Dina Mired would love to bring back to Jordan, if she could:
“Children's Hospital – I would cut it off and take it back with me.”