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Attendees at the preparatory workshop for the 2022 Arab Breast Cancer Awareness Campaign, at Sheraton Hotel in Sharjah today. Image Credit: Ahmed Ramzan/Gulf News

Dubai: Friends Of Cancer Patients (FOCP), a UAE-based nonprofit organisation, and the Jordan Breast Cancer Program (JBCP, jointly organised a two-day event that concluded in Sharjah today, convening representatives of ten out of 15 cancer prevention and control entities from across the Arab world in preparation for the 2022 Arab Breast Cancer Awareness Campaign.

Participants included representatives from Saudi Arabia, UAE, Iraq, Kuwait, Oman, Palestine, Morocco, Jordan and Sudan. They made presentations backed by evidence-based research to provide the way forward for the international Breast Cancer Awareness Month.

In her opening address, Sawsan Jafar, Chairperson of the Board of Directors, FOCP, emphasised the significance of the preparatory workshop that would in conclusion provide insightful opportunities to innovate and increase the efficiency of raising awareness and initiating behavioural change while also motivating both women and men to participate in breast cancer early detection tests regularly.

She pointed out that FOCP’s resounding accomplishments and success in this direction stemmed from the support, directives and patronage of Her Highness Sheikha Jawaher bint Mohammed Al Qassimi, wife of His Highness the Ruler of Sharjah, Founder and Royal Patron of FOCP and International Ambassador of the World Cancer Declaration of the Union for International Cancer Control (UICC).

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A participant attends the preparatory workshop for a breast cancer awareness campaign in Sharjah today. Image Credit: Ahmed Ramzan/Gulf News

Debunking misconceptions

Dr Sawsan Al Madhi

Welcoming participants, Dr Sawsan Al Madhi, Director General of FOCP, highlighted FOCP’s ongoing efforts and awareness activities in the UAE and debunked a common misconception that young adults are immune to breast cancer. Pointing out FOCP’s experiences in the field, she revealed that breast cancer affects all age groups and called for outlining more comprehensive strategies in local and regional awareness campaigns. She told Gulf News: “Our Pink Caravan awareness has yielded very successful results and thanks to emphasis on thorough check-ups, early detection has created many survivors who in turn now volunteer to educate other women in successive years. Similarly, bringing all Arab countries under one unified umbrella will help us run the awareness campaign more effectively as we will be able to compare and correlate data from these countries which will be vital for research outcomes.”

Dr Al Madhi also urged participants to explore ways to harness the UAE’s success in setting a 100 per cent vaccination rate during the pandemic and to similarly galvanise coordinated action in steering the community towards early detection strategies.

Breast cancer in the UAE

A presentation by Dr Buthaina Abdullah Ben Belila, Head of the Non-Communicable Diseases and Mental Health Department at the UAE Ministry of Health and Prevention (MoHAP), focused on the government’s efforts in combating breast cancer in the UAE. The presentation, comprising statistics and studies, revealed breast cancer rates in the UAE for varied age groups and detailed the various impediments impacting breast cancer awareness efforts. It also highlighted the importance of timely intervention and appropriate healthcare services for best results and to improve survival rates.

Unifying efforts

Dr Reem Al Ajlouni

Dr Reem Al Ajlouni, Director of the Jordan Breast Cancer Programme and founder of the pan-Arab preparatory workshop, lauded the FOCP’s role, partnership and efforts in preparing partners of the Arab coalition for breast cancer control at the workshop. She underlined the need to prioritise educational awareness of early detection.

She said, “Pink is the international symbol of breast cancer awareness, and I wish we could reach a healthy pink reality that sees greater progress in breast cancer prevention and control because women’s health is integral to overall community health. I also hope that the new partnerships forged with more countries joining the Arab coalition will make a lasting difference by raising awareness through the regional campaign.”

Dr Reem told Gulf News: “Across all the Arab nations, women not only share a common language and culture, they have similar eating habits, lifestyle and therefore, it is important for all of us to come together and address awareness, understand obstructions and create joint strategies that can be implemented based on actual evidence.”

Early detection a crucial key

On Day 1 of the workshop, participants explored ways to enhance the campaign’s role in taking forward the goals of raising awareness about early detection and prevention of breast cancer to save lives of women in the Arab world. The workshop also looked at ways to effectively communicate breast cancer awareness messages to all segments of the community, and bolster Arab collaboration to combat breast cancer while boosting coordination amongst all entities dedicated to breast cancer prevention.

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Participants at the Sharjah workshop Participants included representatives from Saudi Arabia, UAE, Iraq, Kuwait, Oman, Palestine, Morocco, Jordan and Sudan. Image Credit: Ahmed Ramzan/Gulf News

Several themes for the 2022 Arab Breast Cancer Awareness Campaign were suggested and presented to members of the cancer prevention entities and volunteers. Of these, one will be selected before the launch of the campaign in October.

Day 2 of the workshop comprised four sessions. A brainstorming session discussed the suggested themes for the 2022 campaign while in the second session, participants gained insights into the results of the KAP Study in Arabic and examined its recommendations and findings. In the third session, participants analysed the strengths, weaknesses, challenges and priorities of Arab collaboration in breast cancer awareness campaigns. The fourth session addressed the cooperation mechanisms to effectively target all individuals and groups to raise awareness of breast cancer under the umbrella of the regional Arab campaign in October.