Breast Cancer Awareness Month round-up: MAP’s activities in Palestine, Lebanon and the UK

Medical Aid for Palestinians (MAP) once again marked Breast Cancer Awareness Month in October, with a series of activities to raise awareness of the disease, to promote early detection, and share the successes of our programmes that seek to improve diagnosis and care for the disease across the occupied Palestinian territory and Lebanon.

MAP is grateful to all our partners who supported a successful and far-reaching Breast Cancer Awareness Month campaign. Below is a round-up of what our teams and partners got up to throughout the month:

Gaza

MAP’s team and partners in Gaza ran two major activities for Breast Cancer Awareness Month 2019. The first of these, in partnership with the Culture and Free Thought Association (CFTA) was an academic symposium at the University of Palestine to discuss breast cancer diagnosis, treatment and palliative care for breast cancer patients. Attendees included professors and nursing students from the University of Palestine and other faculties, with discussion on the topics of detection methods, pre- and post-treatment care, and palliative care for terminal cancer patients. A mobile clinic also visited the university, to help explain to women how to perform self-checks and spot the signs of breast cancer, and distribute health information leaflets on campus.

You can see the film of the event produced by CFTA below: 

The second activity was a public arts and culture event to mark the end of the month on 31 October, titled ‘Being healthy is your responsibility’. Eleven artists volunteered to paint a 100 metre-long mural at the Gaza port, with paintings depicting different health messages and advocating the rights of breast cancer patients.

At the launch of the mural, alongside dabke dancers and musical performances, members of MAP’s team spoke to the audience about how breast cancer is diagnosed and treated, as well as the challenges along this journey for women in Gaza. Focusing again on the importance of self-checking and seeking diagnosis, MAP reminded the audience that early discovery means early recovery.

CFTA also produced a film of this event, which you can see below:

West Bank

Throughout Breast Cancer Awareness Month, the Dunya Women’s Cancer Centre – a key partner in MAP’s breast cancer programme in the occupied Palestinian territory (oPt) – conducted dozens of events and activities across the West Bank, including East Jerusalem.

MAP has been supporting Dunya Centre in Ramallah to provide breast and gynecological cancer diagnostic and care services for four years. It is the only clinic in the West Bank to specialise in gynecological and breast cancer, offering diagnostic services such as mammography, ultrasound and biopsy, as well as holistic services for women undergoing treatment such as psychological counselling and physiotherapy. Dunya’s team also work in the community to improve public understanding of the disease and encourage early diagnosis and self-checking, including through public health campaigns like Breast Cancer Awareness Month.

MAP supports Dunya to provide these services to women from across the West Bank, and this support includes buying and updating some of the breast cancer detection instruments and lab supplies; building the capacity of medical staff through conferences and trainings; and providing support for poorer women to access adequate treatment and medication.

For Breast Cancer Awareness Month, Dr. Mai Kaila, the Palestinian Minister of Health, launched a public health campaign on 1 October, under the title ‘Don’t wait for the symptoms, go and check now’. This campaign targeted all Palestinians – not only women – through a diverse array of events across the West Bank, including open days for families; a media campaign (including radio spots); exercise (including Zumba and Pilates); awareness-raising lectures and talks; fundraising bake sales; and hikes. The activities took place in schools, universities, clinics, shopping malls, companies, city centres and gyms, with staff, volunteers and supporters distributing leaflets on how to check for breast cancer and advising on how to access services.

The aim of the campaign was to increase public understanding of the disease, increase rates of early detection and access to treatment, and ultimately to save the lives of Palestinian women affected by breast cancer.

Lebanon

Despite the widespread protests which began across Lebanon in October, MAP and our partner on our Reproductive Health Project (Naba’a – Development Action Without Borders) organised a Breast Cancer Awareness campaign in the southern Palestinian refugee camps of Rashidyeh and Ein el Helweh.

This campaign included talks, open days in community centres, and stalls in the camp neighbourhoods, where the team provided information and health education to residents. These activities all emphasised the importance of screening and early detection, and offered women free consultations with the project’s specialists and referrals to mammography diagnostic services as needed. Those attending heard from survivors who shared their experiences and encouraged other women not to ignore symptoms or to hesitate when it comes to testing. A total of 850 women took part across the month.

According to Kafa, a nurse who works with the project who organised the campaign, many women initially expressed that they prefer not to be screened for breast cancer because they would rather not know if they have the disease, often believing that it is likely to be fatal. However, after they attend the awareness sessions and learned that early detection could actually save their lives, many were encouraged to undertake self-examination and attend regular screening. Kafa informed us that after these sessions, many women ask to book appointments with the project’s doctor for advice and screening.

United Kingdom

In the UK, MAP celebrated two years of Scottish-Palestinian partnership supporting the development of breast cancer care in the occupied Palestinian territory (oPt). Since 2017, teams of radiologists, oncologists, cancer nurses and surgeons from Scotland have been traveling to the oPt with MAP to perform operations and teach the latest techniques used in the UK to local doctors – at all stages of treatment from diagnosis to after-care – so they can provide effective care and improve outcomes for Palestinian patients.

Dr Philippa Whitford, Member of Parliament for Central Ayrshire and a breast cancer surgeon who has helped lead this project, published an opinion piece in Scotland’s ‘The National’ newspaper, describing the successes of this programme:

“The progress in just two years has been remarkable, particularly in Gaza. Women are now diagnosed before surgery with core needle biopsies which are subjected to detailed analysis, allowing better planning of their treatment right from the start. Surgical practice has also changed, with breast conservation replacing mastectomy for patients with smaller tumours, and more targeted “sentinel lymph node biopsy” limiting the number of women undergoing radical axillary node clearance, thereby reducing complications.

“Undergoing a mastectomy affects not just a woman’s health but her self-esteem and confidence, so it is important that more Palestinian women have the option of breast conservation if clinically appropriate.”

Dr Whitford also reflected on the many challenges to women with breast cancer on their journey to recovery, including the unavailability of many medicines in Gaza and restrictions on exit permits for patients needing care in the West Bank or abroad:

“I have spent most of my working life trying to ensure women have access to the best breast cancer treatment available and it is unacceptable that this is denied to Palestinian women for no other reason than where they live.”

One of the medics who has taken part in this programme also attended an NHS Scotland conference was on ‘Developing Sustainable Global Health Partnerships’ during Breast Cancer Awareness Month. Breast cancer surgeon Jane Macaskill presented a poster presentation on Developing sustainable breast cancer services in the West Bank, occupied Palestinian territories (oPt), with contributions from the various NHS Scotland trusts whose staff have been involved in missions in the last couple of years.

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