Egypt: Improving cancer detection

Reem Leila , Friday 26 Jul 2019

Improving cancer detection

More than three million women have been screened for breast cancer as part of a nationwide initiative, reports Reem Leila

Under the auspices of President Abdel-Fattah Al-Sisi, the Ministry of Health and Population launched the Women’s Health Initiative earlier this month aimed at the early detection of breast cancer, hypertension, diabetes, osteoporosis and heart disease.

The initiative, to be implemented in three phases, targets around 30 million women above the age of 18. The first phase, which targets eight million women over two months, has been rolled out in nine governorates, South Sinai, Marsa Matrouh, Port Said, Alexandria, Beheira, Damietta, Qalioubiya, Fayoum and Assiut.

Check-ups will take place at 1,200 medical centres in the nine governorates. The examinations are accompanied by awareness lectures on methods of breast-cancer detection as well as tips on how to lead healthier lifestyles and reproductive health.

According to a 2014 paper, “Cancer Incidence in Egypt: Results of the National Population-Based Cancer Registry Programme”, breast cancer represented around 34 per cent of the most frequent cancers suffered by Egyptian women.

During the few weeks of the initiative’s first phase, more than three million women were examined for breast cancer. “More than 500,000 were found to have breast tumours, and they have been sent to specialised hospitals for further examinations to identify whether the tumours are benign or malignant,” said Hamdy Abdel-Azim, supervisor of the campaign.

The initiative is providing its services for free. The cost of a breast-cancer test in a laboratory is close to LE1,000, while an osteoporosis test costs around LE450. Diabetes blood analysis costs around LE300. “The initiative will save all these costs for Egypt’s women, as many cannot afford the cost of these tests,” Khaled Megahed, spokesman for the Ministry of Health, told Al-Ahram Weekly.

“If any of the women tests positive for any of the diseases, they are referred to one of the Health Ministry’s hospitals for further tests and treatment,” Galal Al-Sheshini, deputy head of the initiative, said on television. He added that in cases of breast cancer, those concerned would be referred for a mammogram to confirm the diagnosis and sent to the ministry’s hospitals for free treatment.

For follow-up, an electronic application can be downloaded on a mobile phone for quick and easy communication. A patient’s medical history can be sent to her, as can awareness tips.

Marwa Salah, a housewife from Fayoum with four children who has undergone the test, expressed her happiness at being negative for breast cancer. “I am healthy. My husband passed away last year, and I am the family’s only breadwinner. I am encouraging my neighbours to go to have these tests as well, as they are very useful for all of us,” Salah said.

Head of the National Council for Women (NCW) Maya Morsi told the Weekly that looking out for women’s health reflected positively on the health of the entire community.

The president’s initiative coincided with several other government strategies targeted at the welfare of women, she added, including the National Strategy for the Empowerment of Egyptian Women 2030, the National Strategy to Combat Violence against Women, the Strategy for Combating Female Genital Mutilation (FGM), and the Strategy to Combat Child Marriage.

Abdel-Azim said that early detection of cancer was key to the success of the treatment. “The government has been always keen to support women’s rights and believes in the importance of empowering them,” he said, urging women to go for the check-up. 

The initiative is also in line with President Al-Sisi’s One Hundred Million Healthy Lives initiative, which has screened around 48 million people for the hepatitis C virus. 

 *A version of this article appears in print in the 25 July, 2019 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly under the headline: Improving cancer detection

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