Dr Shifaan’s journey – the first surgical oncologist of Maldives

Dr Mohamed Shifan, the first local surgical oncologist of the Maldives, gives an interview to Mihaaru. PHOTO: HUSSAIN WAHEED/MIHAARU

Dr Mohamed Shifan, the first local surgical oncologist of the Maldives, gives an interview to Mihaaru. PHOTO: HUSSAIN WAHEED/MIHAARU

An interaction 10 years ago inspired Dr Mohamed Shifaan to choose the field of Oncology. As a surgeon on duty, he witnessed a woman in despair knocking on all the doors in the hospital. Her simple request was to understand how she was supposed to use the bottle of medicine in her hand; the pathetic reality of the situation was that she was inquiring about a service unavailable at that time.

Dr Shifaan learned that she was a cancer patient. The bottle of medicine she was carrying came with specific storage instructions, which she was unaware of; it was now spoilt, of no use due to mishandling. At a time when the universal healthcare scheme, Aasandha, was still absent, it was a big loss and she returned home, without her expensive cure, in despair.

This encounter sparked Dr Shifaan’s determination to become a doctor for cancer patients. He realized the importance of a Maldivian oncologist after this experience. Today he has made his ambition a reality by becoming the first surgical oncologist in the country.

Dr Shifaan is now serving in the newly inaugurated National Cancer Center at the Indira Gandhi Memorial Hospital (IGMH) in the capital.

Inside Indira Gandhi Memorial Hospital (IGMH) - the state-run hospital now operates the National Cancer Centre. PHOTO: NISHAN ALI/MIHAARU

Inside Indira Gandhi Memorial Hospital (IGMH) – the state-run hospital now operates the National Cancer Centre. PHOTO: NISHAN ALI/MIHAARU

“I saw up-close the immense pain and suffering patients with cancer live through, and empathized with their situation. I realized that a Maldivian should be at the helm of providing such patients with proper care. My passion to provide better care for Maldivians drove me in my ambition.”

Dr Shifaan joined IGMH 23 years ago as a clinical assistant, and when he left to complete his super specialization, he was serving as a consultant in the surgical department of the hospital.

Cancer patients live a painfully agonizing journey, with emotional and physical challenges. This affliction is magnified when they have to travel abroad for treatment because the required procedures are unavailable in the country. Until very recently, the Maldives had no cancer treatment facility. With no oncologist in the country, patients had to make a journey to seek chemotherapy and radiation abroad, which added to their misery. But with recent developments, the Maldives now has a facility that serves cancer patients with the required procedures.

Dr Shifaan explains that a comprehensive cancer treatment includes many stages. For the treatment of some types of cancer, like leukemia, chemotherapy is sufficient, while cancer-causing tumors have to be surgically removed and followed with chemotherapy and radiation.

Dr Shifaan stated that the biggest challenge faced in providing the best care for cancer included not having a registry of cancer patients in the country. Statistics available from the Cancer Society and relevant government institutions show that cancer is on the rise, but Dr Shifaan believes that these statistics cannot be ascertained as credible.  He added that the National Cancer Center is working on compiling a comprehensive registry of cancer patients in the country so that an analysis can be made to determine the most common types of cancer, and the region with the most cases in the country.

He assured that the heath services at IGMH have developed considerably, with the National Cancer Center being one of the many achievements of late. Many locals are being trained as nurses and doctors to give specialized care for people suffering with cancer, according to Dr Shifaan.

Before he completed his super specialization in Sri Lanka, Dr Shifaan was operating on patients with breast, thyroid and intestinal cancer.

Dr Mohamed Shifan, the first local surgical oncologist of the Maldives, gives an interview to Mihaaru. PHOTO: HUSSAIN WAHEED/MIHAARU

Dr Mohamed Shifan, the first local surgical oncologist of the Maldives, gives an interview to Mihaaru. PHOTO: HUSSAIN WAHEED/MIHAARU

With immense responsibilities, he is ready and dedicated to serve at the helm of the center. He stated that surgeries previously unavailable in the Maldives are now probable with the new center that is well equipped for such procedures, while other services like chemotherapy are also available.

“All stages of cancer related treatments are now available at the center, except for radiation.”

He aims at developing the center so that complete treatment for cancer patients can be made available in the Maldives. He assured that the IGMH management was working tirelessly to provide some ease for patients suffering with cancer in getting adequate treatment and still be in the country.

“It is not an impossible task: since the Maldives does not have a nuclear medicine facility, we have to get assistance from the International Nuclear Agency. We will shortly engage with them to develop this service and offer a complete solution.”

He admits that a complete treatment gateway is still missing in the country and hopes that such a development could be reached in the future.

In Dr Shifaan’s view, some types of cancer can be avoided by simply changing the Maldivian lifestyle. Smoking and chewing of areca nuts with betel leaves are prevalent lifestyle habits in the Maldivian society that could lead to some types of cancer. He also noted that some types of cancer could be stopped through early detection and treatment while diagnosis at a later stage could make the treatment more difficult or impossible.

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