Health authorities and a charity in Gaza are stepping up efforts to persuade more women to undergo breast cancer testing. They hope to overcome the social stigma in the conservative Palestinian enclave regarding the handling of the disease.
As part of efforts to mark October as Cancer Awareness Month, the Palestinian Ministry of Health and the private charity Fares Al-Arab recently launched a campaign called “There’s No Shame in It”.
They involve a number of preachers to promote the importance of early detection in their da’wah and also bakers to include important messages related to breast cancer in their bread packages.
Not only that, they also operate a mobile van that offers free breast cancer tests. The medical team in the van scanned about 150 women every day during October.
Georgette Harb, the head of the campaign, said, “There No Shame in It is a message of hope and salvation for every woman in the world. This program encourages women not to be ashamed and to keep checking themselves. World Health Organization statistics confirm that 90 percent of women can fully recover if they get checked out early, and the death rate drops to 40 percent due to early detection. Therefore, this disease is very easy and treatable.”
Harb said there was a misunderstanding among Palestinian women. They, he said, often consider the talk about breasts as obscene and embarrassing. As a result, many women feel embarrassed and hesitate to check themselves.
Breast cancer accounts for 32 percent of cancer cases among women in Gaza, the Health Ministry said.
Cancer patients there face many problems ranging from poverty, lack of medicine in local hospitals and limited permits to seek treatment in Israel, the West Bank and surrounding areas.
Amani Khalil, a Gaza woman, has benefited from the campaign. “I didn’t know that I had cancer, I thought it was just muscle pain because I had the wrong sleep. I found out after an examination and an X-ray which showed a tumor.”
During the campaign, Gaza’s main telecommunications company, PalTel, plans to illuminate the exterior of its headquarters with pink lights, a color that represents breast cancer awareness. Many other institutions are rumored to be taking similar steps.
Gaza, a narrow coastal strip that borders Egypt and Israel, is home to about two million Palestinians. Poverty and unemployment in the enclave have been increasing in recent years. [ab/uh]