Palestinian medics travel to UK for breast cancer training

In April, Medical Aid for Palestinians (MAP) was delighted to support two Palestinian health workers from the West Bank, Radiologist Ayman Kalbouneh and Surgeon Ihab Yousef, to undertake one-month training observerships in leading breast cancer units in the UK. While in the UK, the medics developed their skills in breast-specific cancer diagnostics and treatment.

Surgeon Dr Ihab Yousef

Dr Ihab Yousef, a surgeon from Rafidia Hospital in Nablus, began his time in the UK in Cambridge, where he participated in a three-day breast surgery course. The training, Advanced Skills in Breast Disease Management, was run by the Association of Breast Surgery at Selwyn College. There Dr Yousef learnt about current and advancing technologies in breast diagnostics and the importance of multidisciplinary team working, where a patient with breast cancer is cared for by a team of healthcare professionals, cooperating together and each adding their own expertise.

Dr Yousef then travelled to Scotland to undertake a two-week placement at the Department of Breast Surgery at Ninewells Hospital in Dundee. There Dr Yousef participated in multidisciplinary team meetings to review the diagnoses and treatment plans of breast cancer patients, and observed breast cancer surgeries. He also developed his understanding of the critical role that nurses play in breast cancer care, and attended screening assessments and joint breast cancer and plastic surgery clinics. He then travelled to Aberdeen, where he was hosted at the breast cancer unit at Aberdeen Royal Infirmary in Foresthill, to further expand the knowledge and skills he developed in Dundee and Cambridge.

Radiologist Dr Ayman Kalbouneh

Radiologist Dr Ayman Kalbouneh, a radiologist also from Rafidia Hospital in Nablus, began his observership in Scotland at Glasgow’s West of Scotland Breast Screening Service. His supervisor, Consultant Breast Radiologist Janet Litherland, is familiar with Palestinian breast cancer services, having travelled to the West Bank with MAP as part of a multidisciplinary team of UK breast cancer specialists.

During Dr Kalbouneh’s two weeks at the department, he also participated in multidisciplinary team meetings, and was involved in mammographic screen readings and MRI scans.  Like Dr Yousef, his understanding and appreciation of the role of breast cancer nurses developed, and he practiced breast cancer biopsies on dummies. He also had the opportunity to attend lectures at the Scottish Mammography Education Centre.

After Scotland, Dr Kalbouneh travelled to Manchester, where he was hosted at Wythenshawe Hospital, under the supervision of Consultant Radiologist Tony Maxwell. In Manchester, Dr Kalbouneh was involved in screening assessment and symptomatic clinics.

 

UK to Palestine: bringing the lessons home

Following the successful completion of the observserships, Dr Kalbouneh and Dr Yousef joined a team of breast cancer specialist from the UK on a medical mission in Nablus, supported by MAP. The two medics contributed greatly to discussions about setting up a new breast cancer unit in Nablus, applying their experience and observations from clinics in the UK.

Gaza medics denied UK visas to attend the observerships

The observerships undertaken by Dr Kalbouneh and Dr Yousef are part of a wider, long term project supported by MAP to improve breast cancer care in Gaza and the West Bank. They are an essential opportunity for breast cancer clinicians in the occupied Palestinian territory to update their surgical and radiology skills. Tragically access to this professional development was denied to three Gaza health workers.

MAP applied for the West Bank medics to be joined by a surgeon and radiologist from Gaza. Regrettably, three Gaza health workers were denied UK visas to attend the breast cancer observerships. Such refusals severely hamper the ability of dedicated health workers to access training that is unavailable in Gaza, and for health workers in the UK to in turn learn about the treatment challenges in Gaza. Barriers to medical professional development thus contribute to the de-development of Gaza’s struggling health system, as they challenge the ability of health workers to update their skills in line with international best-practice and thus provide quality care to their patients. MAP is doing all it can to ensure that UK visas are granted in the  future to other Palestinian health workers to undertake vital medical training.

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