Fighting stigma to raise breast cancer awareness in Gaza


A Palestinian woman leaves a mobile clinic set up in a truck after a breast cancer check up, during a campaign aimed to raise public awareness in Gaza. Photo: Reuters

Health authorities and charities in Gaza are stepping up efforts to persuade women to be tested for breast cancer, hoping to overcome social stigma in the conservative Palestinian enclave over dealing with the disease.

As part of a "There's no shame in it" campaign launched by private charity Fares Al-Arab in conjunction with the health ministry, Muslim preachers have been promoting early detection and bakers have enclosed similar messages in bread packages.

A mobile testing van has taken to the road, providing scans for some 150 women a day over the past week at the start of the annual international breast cancer awareness month in October.

"'There's no shame in it' is a message of hope and safety for every women, telling them to go ahead and check," said Georgette Harb, the campaign's leader.

"There is a category in the community that deals with the issue as shameful, and they deal with breast removal and the word breast as if it was obscene or shameful," said Harb.

Breast cancer accounts for 32% of the cases of cancer among women in Gaza, the health ministry said.

Cancer patients there face multiple problems ranging from poverty, the lack of medication in the territory's hospitals and some difficulty going for treatment to Israel, the West Bank and beyond due to permit restrictions.

During the campaign, Gaza's main telecommunications company PalTel bathed its headquarters in pink lights, the colour illustrating breast cancer awareness, with more institutions due to follow.

Gaza, a narrow coastal strip that borders Egypt and Israel, is home to about two million Palestinians. Poverty and unemployment in the enclave run high. - Reuters

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