Photo: Yander Zamora

Explaining the focus of the 14th International Conference Longevity 2017, which began June 6 in Havana's Convention Center, Dr. Raúl González Hernández, head of the organizing committee, told Granma, "It's about people living as much time as possible, but that they do so with quality of life."

The event, organized by the Caribbean Medical Association (Ameca) and the 120 Years Club, is featuring scientific debate on issues that range from genetics, culture, sexuality, motivation, nutrition, environment, and physical activity, to the challenges facing public health systems, disability-friendly cities and aging.

"The 21st century holds many opportunities to expand life, as a result of the development of the sciences, medicine, culture, and productive capacity. Cuba offers a unique setting in which science and society come together in an articulated fashion to serve human life, and this event is an example of that," Dr. González explained.

Life expectancy for those born today in Cuba is 78.45 years for both sexes, 80 for women and 76 for men; but for those who reach 60 years of age, an additional 22 years are to be expected, while those who reach 80 average almost nine additional years of life, according to the latest statistics.

This implies a victory for life, but also presents multiple challenges. Dr. Agustín Lage Dávila, director of the Molecular Immunology Center, identifies one of these, addressing the approach of treating cancer as a chronic disease. He noted that the survival rate of cancer patients around the world is increasing, although this does not mean that mortality rates have been reduced.

He emphasized that the complex nature of efforts to control cancer clearly presents a challenge. The change of focus - treating the disease as a chronic one and not terminal - more than an aspiration is a reality which is already emerging. From the scientific point of view this is evident in longer survival rates and longer periods of treatment, during which quality of life issues take on added importance, he noted.

This trend is emerging in the context of an increase in cancer around the world, with countries of the South experiencing a 70% mortality rate, a fact that demystifies the popular perception that it is a disease of rich countries. Cuba has not escaped this tendency, with different kinds of cancer ranking as the most common causes of death here.

Dr. Lage additionally stressed the importance of providing differentiated treatment for advanced cancer patients; strengthening prevention efforts at the primary care level; constantly updating therapeutic guides; evaluating different treatment combinations, not only single drugs, and mobilizing the biotechnology industry toward this end.

The scientist made the point that while we now have better ways of fighting cancer, prevention strategies are still lacking, citing the example of smoking, which is one of the principal risk factors for the disease and merits a more effective prevention campaign, he said.

Dr. Laje also noted that immunological therapy has great potential in the treatment of many other illnesses associated with aging, such as diabetes, kidney disease, atherosclerosis, and Alzheimer's, among others.

Taking place simultaneously during Longevity 2017 are the 10th International Nursing Encounter, the Third International Symposium on Mouth Health in Later Life, and the 12th Meeting of Centenarians.

The conference's inaugural session featured a moving tribute to professor Eugenio Selman-Housein Abdo and the presentation of the book El Émulo de Avicena, a text compiled by his brother Ricardo, which tells his life story and highlights the important role he played as a scientist and revolutionary, as well as the effort he devoted to the 120 Years Club.