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 the women of Pakistan.
This was one of the main demands of the speakers of the 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 in the country had only two public sector hospitals, which had the capability to treat patients with breast cancer.
They said that 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 that more government and foreign funding was required to beef up the country’s capability to fight the cancerous ailment as Pakistan has 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 if 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 that the 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 that breast cancer on average was being diagnosed at 10 years younger age among Pakistani women as compared to the females in the United States.
She said that 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 of cases were diagnosed at the earliest stage of the cancerous ailment.
Dr Soomro said that ageing, family health history, obesity, and unhealthy lifestyle were some of the common risk factors for breast cancer.
She said that 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 the situation that there was no substantial increase in breast cancer diagnostic and treatment facilities in Pakistan in the last ten years that was also the time when there had been an alarming increase in the instances of the fatal disease.
He said the country lacked the properly registered medicines, which were required to treat cancer patients.
He said the government should announce a waiver of customs duty being levied on the chemotherapy equipment being imported to treat the patients with 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 Food and Drug Administration of the USA but still being sold in the Pakistani markets.
Dr Shaista Khan, senior breast surgeon associated with Aga Khan University Hospital, said that 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 these countries.
She said that African countries had the worst fatality rate as the result of breast cancer owing to lack of treatment facilities in the backward region.
She said that owing to timely medical interventions breast cancer survival rate had increased to 90 per cent in the West while in Pakistan up to 30 per cent of the 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.
Member of Sindh Assembly, Rabia Azfar Nizami, eulogised the First Lady of Pakistan, Samina Arif Alvi, to lead the nationwide efforts being made to make women aware of this serious health issue.
She, however, acknowledged 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 gynaecologists and midwives in the country should be trained to make women aware of the issue of breast cancer.
Muhammad Ahmed Shah, Arts Council President, said the Arts Council Karachi was always present to host such activities that were meant to safeguard the health of underprivileged women.
Ruqiya Naeem, NFEH Secretary-General, said that 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 have been on the rise in Pakistan.
M. Naeem Qureshi, President NFEH, Vice President Engr. Nadeem Asharf, Dr. Saima Erum Ejaz, Samreen Junaid, Dr. Asim Kidwai & Dr. Hina Ambreen.