Every district headquarters hospital in Sindh should have the facility to diagnose and treat breast cancer, as too few public sector health facilities offer treatment services against the most commonly occurring cancerous disease among women in Pakistan.
This was one of the main demands of the speakers of a seminar on breast cancer awareness organised by the National Forum for Environment & Health (NFEH) in collaboration with the Arts Council Karachi.
The speakers lamented that Karachi, despite being the largest city of the country, had only two public sector hospitals which had the capability to treat patients of breast cancer.
They said more breast cancer screening and treatment facilities should be established owing to the seriousness of the situation as one out of every eight women in Pakistan was prone to the fatal disease.
The concerned health experts said more government and foreign funding was required to beef up the country’s capability to fight the cancerous ailment, as Pakistan had the highest breast cancer incidence rate among the Asian countries.
They demanded that the working women who were tax filers should be given special financial assistance from the government in case anyone of them required treatment for breast cancer.
Prof Dr Rufina Soomro, head of the General Surgery Department of Liaquat National Hospital, said breast cancer situation in Pakistan had become highly alarming as most of the cases were being diagnosed in the younger age bracket of 40 to 50 years.
She said breast cancer on an average was being diagnosed at 10 years younger age among Pakistani women as compared to the females in the United States.
She said only 10 per cent of the breast cancer cases were diagnosed at stage one in Pakistan, whereas in the Western countries up to 50 per cent cases were diagnosed at the earliest stage of the cancerous ailment.
Dr Soomro said aging, family health history, obesity and unhealthy lifestyle were some of the common risk factors for the breast cancer.
She said every adult woman should go through the breast cancer diagnostic process after every two years so as to detect the disease at the earliest stage.
Omer Aftab, founder and CEO of Pink Ribbon Pakistan, lamented that there had been no substantial increase in breast cancer diagnostic and treatment facilities in Pakistan in the last 10 years and that was also the time when there had been an alarming increase in the instances of the fatal disease.
He said the country lacked properly registered medicines, which were required to treat the cancer patients. He said the government should announce a waiver of the customs duty being levied on the chemotherapy equipment being imported to treat the patients of breast cancer.
He said the government should readily take action against cancer-causing food and edible items which had already been banned by the European Union and the Food and Drug Administration of the USA, but which were still being sold in the Pakistani markets.
Dr Shaista Khan, senior breast surgeon associated with the Aga Khan University Hospital, said America, Europe and Australia had the highest instances of breast cancer as compared to other regions, but more women’s lives were saved there as treatment facilities were available in abundance in those countries.
She said African countries had the worst fatality rate as a result of breast cancer owing to a lack of treatment facilities in the backward region. She said that owing to timely medical interventions, the breast cancer survival rate had increased to 90 per cent in the West, but in Pakistan up to 30 per cent lives of the affected women could be saved after detection of the cancerous disease.
She lamented that five mobile units had been imported by the government for breast cancer screening in the provinces, but only two of the provincial governments had agreed to operate them.
Sindh Assembly member Rabia Azfar Nizami eulogised the First Lady of Pakistan Samina Arif Alvi for leading the nationwide efforts being made to make women aware of this serious health issue. She, however, stressed that a lot of efforts had to be done by the government to expand breast cancer treatment facilities in the country.
Afia Salam, a senior journalist and breast cancer survivor, said the gynecologists and midwives in the country should be trained to make women aware about the issue of breast cancer.
Muhammad Ahmed Shah, Arts Council president, said the Arts Council was always present to host activities that were meant to safeguard the health of underprivileged women.
Ruqiya Naeem, NFEH secretary general, said her non-governmental organisation after doing extensive tree plantation work in Karachi had decided to play its due role in the field of breast cancer for the protection of women’s health against the cancerous disease, whose instances had been on the rise in Pakistan.
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