How MAP’s partner the Dunya Centre is safely providing essential cancer services amid the pandemic

The impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic on healthcare extend well beyond those services and institutions directly responding to the disease and seeking to halt its spread. Medical Aid for Palestinians (MAP) and our local partners are adjusting all aspects of our programmes to ensure continuity in care and support to the communities we serve.

One such partner is the Dunya Women’s Cancer Centre, based in Ramallah. The Dunya Centre provides specialised cancer diagnostic services including mammography, ultrasound and biopsy, as well as holistic services for women both during and after cancer treatment, including psychological counselling and physiotherapy. Dunya’s team also works in the community to improve public understanding of cancers affecting women and encourage early diagnosis and self-checking. The clinic, run by women for women, is incredibly busy and serves around 1,900 women each year.

"The pandemic does not erase the high risk of cancer nor the importance of early diagnosis to save lives"

At the beginning of the pandemic (March – April), the Centre closed its doors while the West Bank was under strict lockdown. Despite this and continuing pandemic disruptions, its team has worked hard to ensure women can access essential services. Dr Nufuz, Director of the Dunya Centre, explained to MAP how they were able to adapt:

“Women with breast cancer are at increased risk of severe illness from COVID-19. Therefore, we decided that for their own safety, it is best to close the Centre to avoid spreading the virus. However, In May we decided to reopen while taking all possible precautionary measures. The pandemic does not erase the high risk of cancer nor the importance of early diagnosis to save the lives of the women. So the Centre has opened for essential services such treatment and diagnosis, while psychosocial services and sessions are offered virtually.”

Dr Nufuz added that during lockdown all public transportation stopped, making it harder for women to access the clinic. Nevertheless, the Centre runs a mobile clinic in Nablus, and in June they were able to reach 16 villages, conduct 460 mammogram scans, and diagnose 23 women.

During COVID 19 the dire economic situation in the West Bank and the fear of the pandemic have compounded the challenges to mental and physical health faced by women with breast cancer. Many fear going to hospitals for treatment due to the perceived risk of exposure to COVID-19, and so many have had their treatment or medications delayed.

"We work hard to increase the self-confidence of the women diagnosed with breast cancer"

The Dunya Centre is the only organisation in the West Bank offering specialised psychosocial support for women diagnosed with breast cancer. It has formed support groups for survivors and offers family intervention plans.

Marah, the Centre’s social worker, explained the individual and group counselling: “We work hard to increase the self-confidence of the women diagnosed with breast cancer, working to provide them with necessary coping skills. We usually conduct group sessions twice a month and provide recreational activities and economic empowerment training, in addition to the psychosocial support. My main goal now is to try and involve male family members more in the process of treatment and recovery of  women. I am trying to plan an 'appreciation event', where men can celebrate the strength of the women and recognise the battles they have been fighting.”

“The sessions help women accept their medical condition in the most positive way possible,” adds Marah. “Many women were embarrassed that they had cancer, but now they are proud and even share their battles publicly with the media.”

This is emotionally challenging work for the staff, as Mariah explains: “At the beginning of my career at Dunya it was so hard to cope with emotional stress of losing one of the women to cancer.  Every time it happened, I felt responsible for some reason and wanted to quit. But through the years I have learned how to share my emotions with my colleagues and mitigate the personal impact of my job."

"However, I did not learn how to stop loving these amazing women and getting attached to them.”

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