The Pink Caravan Ride last year. Reem Bin Karam pointed out that when the initiative was launched in 2011, residents used to refer to breast cancer as chest cancer. Image Credit: Virendra Saklani/Gulf News Archives

Dubai: When the Pink Caravan Ride was launched in the UAE in 2011, residents hesitated to even use the term ‘breast cancer’.

Reem Bin Karam

“We had to refer to the condition as ‘chest cancer’,” Reem Bin Karam, Chairperson of Pink Caravan Ride Higher Steering Committee, told Gulf News.

For a disease that claimed 1,391 lives daily that year, according to the World Health Organisation, the breast cancer stigma in some sections of the UAE community revealed the lack of proper understanding of what the disease was and how it could be overcome.

But much has changed since then, Bin Karam said.

In just six years, the mass movement of ambassadors in pink riding around the country on horseback every year has changed behaviour and perceptions — of men and women alike — towards breast cancer, early screening and treatment.

“You would agree that we have come more than a long way from that point. We were only able to conduct over 41,391 screenings and check-ups because we were able to reach out to these people, and empower them with the right information and knowledge they needed to take positive action,” Bin Karam said.

“The Pink Caravan initiative has, in my opinion, created a seismic shift in people’s attitudes towards breast cancer. We have screened 8,526 men for breast cancer — doesn’t that speak volumes about the positive impact our initiative has had on people’s mindsets across the UAE?”

Now in its seventh year, the 11-day journey will begin on Tuesday with more than 100 riders covering a distance of 200.2km across the country.

Watch: Pink Caravan ride started today in Sharjah Video by Virendra Saklani/Gulf News

Themed ‘7 years… for 7 Emirates’, the ride will teach residents about cancer, offer free clinical breast examinations, mammography testings in seven locations, and counselling, among others.

“A new addition in 2017 are the fixed clinics, one in each emirate, which will provide strong support to the mobile clinic with additional medical screenings, patient counsel and support during the 7th Pink Caravan Ride,” Bin Karam said.

A health check at the right time can make all the difference.  Video by Janice Ponce de Leon/Gulf News

From being the leading cause of cancer deaths, breast cancer dropped to third place for both genders in Abu Dhabi in 2014. Nationwide statistics on breast cancer in the UAE are scant, but a national cancer registry is in the pipeline.

Bin Karam said the drop in breast cancer deaths can be attributed to residents’ increased awareness on the importance of early detection.

Watch: Horse show-jumping by children riders for the opening of the 7th Pink Caravan Ride at the Sharjah Equestrian and Riding Club.  Video by Janice Ponce de Leon/Gulf News

“They [now] feel secure as part of a larger community who have been able to rise above societal taboos. Instead of helplessly pushing these issues under the carpet, people are learning to embrace their fight against cancer,” Bin Karam said. “An establishment like ours helps them know that they are never alone.”