Dr. Beena Devi CR (21/05/2021) Summary


She had retired from Hospital Umum Sarawak Oncology Department in November 2017. Currently, she is in private practice (Normah Medical Specialist Centre) and volunteering for Sarawak Hospice Society HOME CARE PROGRAM to see terminally ill cancer patients in need.


She began her career in Sarawak General Hospital in November 1992 as the Head of Department of Radiotherapy & Oncology. She graduated with an MD from Mangalore University, India in 1989 in Clinical Oncology, followed by a Master's Degree in Palliative Medicine from Edith Cowan University, Australia in 2000 becoming the first Oncologist in Malaysia to have a Master's Degree in Palliative Medicine.


Since 1992, she worked actively to improve early diagnosis of cancer in the state of Sarawak (2.5 million population) notably by improving health care delivery especially in rural areas where most of the minority groups reside. With the help of her team, they started an extensive health education programme on creating awareness on early signs and symptoms of common cancers (breast, cervix and nasopharynx) at all levels of the health system and among the general population. They were able to successfully conduct workshops with the help of the State Health Department. This pioneering work in the State led to significantly reducing the stage at diagnosis for breast and cervical cancer in Sarawak, the findings of which were published in Ann Oncol (2007) and reported in WHO guidance on early diagnosis published in 2007.  She was invited by the WHO regional office for Eastern Mediterranean region to give a key note address on this experience at the WHO office in Cairo.


In 1994, she helped to set up the first government based Palliative Care unit with home care service in Malaysia, training numerous personnel in Palliative Care. Eventually she was invited by Gajah Madah University (Indonesia) to share her experiences with the staff there in downstaging of breast and cervical cancers and Palliative Care work in a place with limited resources.


Her work on Nasopharyngeal cancer got international attention when the findings were published. Her research work established in 2002 that the incidence of this cancer is the highest in the world amongst Bidayuhs, an important ethnic minority group in Sarawak and it was a landmark finding. Since then, she has been collaborating with World Health Organization International Agency for Research on Cancer to establish the risk factors for this cancer which affects many in South East Asia.


In 2009 she received the award from the International Ethnic Research for the proposal for breast cancer research in the population in Sarawak which includes certain unique minority groups. This award led to numerous publications in international journals on breast cancer in Sarawak, Malaysia.


Her hard work in improving cancer care in Sarawak paid off when the department was recognised by European Society of Medical Oncology (ESMO) in 2009 for the high standard of comprehensive cancer care that included not only cancer treatment, but palliative care, geriatric care, educating the health professionals as well as the public on early diagnosis, palliative care and geriatric care, and cancer research: a great recognition being the first hospital in SE Asia to achieve this award. Subsequently, the department won the award for the second term from 2013 to 2016. In 2015 she was selected to be Faculty Member of ESMO.


In 2011, she was awarded the prestigious Paul Calabresi award by the International Society of Geriatric Oncology (SIOG) for her contribution to the improvement in cancer care in Sarawak. It was the first time an Asian and a woman being given such recognition.


In 2016, WHO recognized the department of Radiotherapy, Oncology & Palliative Care for their work on providing not only inpatient palliative care but also hospice home care. The part on hospice home care was possible because of the department's staff in participation and the formation of Sarawak Hospice Society since 1998. The need for home care was crucial as there was no such service and many families felt inadequate in caring for the terminally ill cancer patients.


At the Sarawak State level, she was awarded Darjah Gemilang Kenyalang Sarawak (2003) and Johan Bintang Kenyalang (2011) by the Sarawak State Government for her contribution to the state on cancer care.


In 2018, she was invited by WHO as an expert for reviewing cancer control and treatment for a mission to the Democratic People's Republic of Korea. She partakes regularly with WHO on topics related to early diagnosis, treatment and palliative care. She has numerous publications in peer reviewed international journals and presented at numerous international congresses. Her pioneering work on downstaging and palliative care has been adopted by World Health Organization for other countries with limited resources to emulate.


Her keen interest in research led to collaboration with various prestigious institutions: NCI, USA, IARC, France, FNCA, Japan and NUS, Singapore. In 2011, she successfully organized the first Congress on the Elderly in Asia with SIOG. This was the first time this event was held in Asia under the auspices of SIOG.


She is a member of SIOG, MOS, MMA, INCTR, medical advisor for Sarawak Hospice Society. She is a reviewer for various international journals.


As part of Sarawak Hospice Society's activities, she conducts various workshops related to improving staff's knowledge on managing terminally ill cancer patients. Her current project is to create awareness on Cancer prevention. Her motto is to educate the public especially in rural areas with the goal of teaching "One Village at a time". She strongly believes educating the public will empower them with the knowledge to seek attention at an earlier stage. The burden of care for the advanced stage of cancer is a burden to the over stretched public health system.


She is involved in community care by participating in the local charity events helping with various NGOs. She has committed her time to the people in Sarawak in both professional and non-professional capacity.


Since 2012, she has been keen on creating awareness on the importance of exercise and healthy living. She was involved in organizing a cyclothon in Kuching with Sarawak Hospice Society to create awareness on the needs for terminally ill cancer patients. In addition, she participates in local athletic activities like yoga, cycling, Zhumba and badminton to promote the importance of exercise at any age. The need to get people to commit to healthy lifestyle is challenging but nevertheless worthwhile.