Three years on: the successes of MAP’s cross-Palestine breast cancer programme 

Last month the dedication and hard work of our breast cancer medical volunteers was recognised when they were nominated finalists in the Scottish Health Awards. Now their work in collaboration with health workers in the occupied Palestinian territory (oPt) has been further highlighted in a blog published by the American University of Beirut’s Global Health Institute, Medical Aid for Palestinians’ Work Enhancing the National Plan for Breast Cancer Treatment in oPt.

The piece explores MAP’s breast cancer programme in the West Bank and Gaza and shows that, after just three years, the project has helped to develop better case management, diagnosis and treatment for Palestinian patients. Below is a summary of the blog, which can be read in full here.

MAP’s cross-Palestine breast cancer programme 

Back in 2017, MAP conducted an assessment of breast cancer services in the oPt, led by Dr Philippa Whitford, a breast cancer surgeon and member of parliament, who was joined by a multidisciplinary team of breast cancer experts from the UK. Together they identified weaknesses in the awareness, availability, affordability and quality of breast cancer services in the West Bank and Gaza.

MAP’s cross-Palestine breast cancer programme was developed to help address these gaps, improve diagnostics, surgery and nursing in the West Bank and Gaza and help give Palestinian patients access to higher quality services.

Before the outbreak of COVID-19 (coronavirus), this included regular visits from breast cancer specialists from the UK to Gaza and the West Bank to provide on-the-job training to Palestinian clinicians. Since the outbreak of the pandemic, this training has moved online, with the UK and local health care teams holding weekly online meetings so they can continue to strengthen their knowledge and skills.

Key achievements

A review, completed in September 2020, found that the project has significantly improved case management, diagnosis, and treatment of breast cancer in the oPt.

Multi-disciplinary team (MDT) working has been successfully implemented, so breast cancer patients in Gaza and the West Bank are now cared for and their case discussed by a team of healthcare professionals, each with their own expertise. This is a core component of cancer care in the UK and a way of working which the visiting medics have been demonstrating and promoting to local teams.

The Palestinian Ministry of Health has also recognised breast cancer as its own speciality. As Dr Philippa Whitford explains, “this has allowed the development of a specialised team who can deepen their knowledge, understanding and skills in treating breast cancer – thus improving the care delivered to the women of Gaza.”

The blog also notes remarkable improvements in diagnosis, radiology and pathology and that newly learned skills and techniques have helped to widen the treatment options available to Palestinian breast cancer patients. Dr Philippa Whitford remarks, “the MAP project has had a profound effect on the treatment and care available to Palestinian women with breast cancer.”

Next steps for Palestinian breast cancer care

The blog concludes with the next steps for the project. MAP’s team will be building on the achievements made so far to help increase breast cancer survival in the oPt by working towards:

  • Improving community awareness of breast cancer, to enhance early detection and diagnosis
  • Enhancing local diagnostic and treatment capacity, focusing on the surgical aspect of breast cancer
  • Supporting clinical audit and research studies of breast cancer care 
  • Liaising among different health care providers to enhance the breast cancer pathway
  • Advocating for breast cancer patients to have better access to health services, particularly those unavailable in the oPt, such as radiotherapy

This year, a new specialist breast unit, funded by MAP, will also be opening in Rafedia Hospital to serve patients in the north of the West Bank. We look forward to updating supporters on this soon.

For more information on breast cancer in the occupied Palestinian territory click here.

To read about how MAP’s projects support for women with breast cancer in the West Bank and Gaza, click here.

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