ACROSS the world, the month of October is marked as ‘PINKtober’, a campaign to raise awareness about breast cancer. The most common form of cancer globally, it claims around 458,000 lives every year. However, according to WHO, the number of deaths is higher in developing countries, including Pakistan where, while several factors have led to an increased incidence of breast cancer, there are myriad problems in accessing health services which prevents early detection. With about one in nine women in Pakistan suffering from the disease, a conservative estimate holds that around 40,000 of them die of it every year — the highest mortality rate in Asia. Of late, the government has taken a few initiatives to increase awareness about breast cancer. President Arif Alvi has called on all elected members of parliament to work towards raising awareness of this health issue in their areas in collaboration with mediapersons and health bodies. The government has also initiated an awareness campaign in partnership with private cellular networks. However, a consistent and holistic effort is required to curb the incidence of the disease in the country. For women, knowledge of early symptoms is essential for timely treatment but awareness campaigns can only be effective if adequate investment is also made in basic healthcare infrastructure and breast cancer screening facilities. Mammography procedures are often costly and, given the poor service delivery in public-sector hospitals, constitute an unthinkable out-of-pocket expense for millions of households in the country.
Also, since the disease mostly occurs in females, their societal roles and the attitudes of men in their own family play a significant part in their being able to seek help and receive treatment. Moreover, taboos associated with regular screening and breast examination also lead to delayed diagnosis which contributes to the high death toll. The government must invest in strengthening the primary healthcare system while keeping up a consistent awareness campaign to be able to effect change in the prevalence and morbidity of breast cancer.
Published in Dawn, October 18th, 2020