Pink Ribbon Pakistan is a non-funded, self-sustained and the only organization in the country which is dedicatedly working on the issue of breast cancer with nationwide outreach since 2004. They strive to significantly reduce breast cancer mortality in the country by creating widespread awareness through community engagement on prevention, early detection and increased access to treatment. Their scope of work is holistic from strategic interventions to public awareness including patient-aid and service delivery. This impressive campaign of spreading Breast Cancer awareness and building alliances with the public and corporate sector organization led Pink Ribbon win IPRA Frontline Golden World Award. Realizing the utmost privation of quality healthcare facilities for Breast Cancer, Pink Ribbon laid the foundation of Pakistan’s first dedicated Breast Cancer Hospital in 2017.
Pink Ribbon Pakistan reach out to over 200,000 young girls every year in more than 200 academic institutions across Pakistan, through Pink Ribbon Youth Programme to educate them about breast self-exams and risk factors. Pink Ribbon has been illuminating iconic buildings Pink since 2012. In 2019 and 2020 more than 50 buildings were turned Pink across Pakistan to support the cause of Pink Ribbon. Pink Ribbon launched Medical Co-Pay Assistance Programme – connecting donors with deserving breast cancer patients – to reduce total out-of-pocket expense for the patient.
Pink Ribbon has been collaborating with mainstream media to sensitize public at large through highlighting the issue of breast cancer – the first time in Pakistan.
At the outset in 2004, talking about Breast Cancer was not easy in the society where this fatal disease was largely associated with female sexuality, but Pink Ribbon campaigned so effectively that not only the taboo was broken and Breast Cancer was included in the narrative of mainstream media but also the government acknowledged the cause and made Breast Cancer a priority in national health agenda.
Pink Ribbon has continued its struggle over the years, and has moved from campaigning and advocacy to service delivery and launched National Breast Cancer Screen Program through Mobile Mammogram Units.
Omer Aftab, Founder and CEO of Pink Ribbon Pakistan, talked about the prevalence of breast cancer in the country and Pink Ribbon’s role in creating awareness about it among young women…
How difficult is to spread awareness regarding breast cancer during covid era?
October is the breast cancer awareness month, and awareness today is uniquely vital. It is a fact that during the Covid-19 pandemic, it is hard to focus on any other health issues apart from potential exposure to the coronavirus. But regular screenings and care are still as important today as they ever have been.
Various screening tests that detect breast cancer, including mammograms, have all been delayed across the country due to the coronavirus. The delay is understandable, given two major contributing factors:
1) Fear of getting the virus simply by being around others.
2) Many hospitals and clinics are turning their focus to Covid-19 patients, and they have put screening procedures on hold.
This resulted in a major drop in mammogram rates across the country that ended up costing lives as any delay in discovering that breast cancer exists can be fatal in some cases. It is pertinent to mention here that breast cancer is very treatable if it is caught early.
What impact has your NGO made in spreading awareness regarding breast cancer? Do you see any positive change?
Due to continuous and robust breast cancer awareness campaigns of Pink Ribbon since 2004, two men have started taking the threat seriously. A 400 percent increase has been witnessed among women taking mammogram test for any signs of breast cancer, which clearly shows that our awareness campaigns across Pakistan are working.
Adopting healthy lifestyle is key to staying healthy. How do you encourage young people to make healthy choices?
To motivate young people to adopt healthy lifestyle, we time and again arrange sessions at different universities and colleges in collaboration with the Higher Education Commission. We apprise the youth, especially women, to get themselves engaged in physical activities in order to avert diseases, specifically breast cancer.
How do you educate people, especially young people, to be more open and articulate about the subject?
We used to set up stalls at different shopping malls of Pakistan, distribute brochures and flyers, arrange interactive sessions and awareness walks in order to break the taboo and break the barriers, hence motivating people to talk about this deadly disease rather than staying silent to make it worse.
Early detection of breast cancer is the key to survival because if breast cancer is diagnosed early the chances of survival are up to 90%. Young girls and women should do self-examination at least once in a month. It is suggested that women between 25 and 40 years old who are asymptomatic and have no special risk factors for breast cancer undergo a clinical breast exam every 1 to 3 years. The risk of getting breast cancer increases for the women ages above 40 so they are recommended to receive more frequent clinical breast exams. Women ages above 40 should have a mammogram screening each year to diagnose breast cancer at its earliest and most treatable stage because in some cases breast cancer may not cause any symptoms.