Breast Care Malawi making great strides in cancer awareness campaign, screening 

Breast Care Malawi, a legally registered NGO in the country, whose mission is to provide help and inspire hope to those affected by breast cancer through early detection, education and awareness, will this Sunday, October 27, hold a carnival at the Old Lucky Luciano near South End School along Chikwawa Road for the annual Pink Ribbon Day awareness walk.

A screening procedure at their clinic in Chitawira
Another screening process
Duke (2nd right) with some members of Breast Care Malawi
Duke (right) with one of her colleagues

This awareness campaign is a remarkable achievement in that just three years ago, Malawi did not have a breast screening clinic or even a breast surgeon, as was discovered by Breast Care’s Founder Dr. Ria Duke, who is a twice survivor of breast cancer.

This year’s activities will be their third annual breast cancer walk, which in the world is known as the Pink Ribbon Day.

The proceeds for this year’s walk, which members of the public are asked to contribute a minimum of K3,500 per entry, will go towards the breast screening clinic which the organisation administers at Chitawira Private Hospital.

And it is not just for paying patients but also for the non-paying underprivileged patients.

Dr. Duke explains that it all started in South Africa in June 2015 when her husband, who was born and raised in Malawi, decided to relocate back home and taking advantage of their medical aid in South Africa, they did all their medical check-ups.

She said that’s when she was diagnosed with breast cancer and that delayed their move to Malawi for a while as she had to have vigorous treatment processes called Mastectomy at the Benoni Oncology clinic.

“I had 35 sessions of radiation and 2 days after my last treatment we were on a plane to Malawi but in August 2016, I felt something was not quite right and needed to see a breast specialist as soon as possible.

“To my absolute horror, I discovered Malawi does not have a breast clinic let alone a breast surgeon! In absolute hysterics, I found myself back in South Africa — my cancer had returned.

“I was now having a double mastectomy by South Africa’s leading breast surgeon, Professor Carol Anne Benn and in the most beautiful breast care clinic and wonderful staff, I was nursed back to health.

“But all along I felt guilty for having this treatment when women in Malawi do not even have anywhere else to go with a problem like mine.”

When she returned to Malawi, she mobilized friends together and formed a group called Breast Care Malawi that was duly registered as a non-profit company Limited by guarantee with five Trustees — a director, secretary, attorney, treasurer and 40 members.

“Our aim was to help people with cancer lighten the burden a bit and it soon spiralled into a big project as we were approached by a retired breast surgeon from the UK, who asked help to help work with us.”

Duke said this surgeon soon helped women to get the right treatment for breast cancer when her grouping fundraised to stock her with hospital consumables, dressing packs, scalpels, scalper handles and other necessities.

“With this initiative taking shape, more doctors and people became aware of breast cancer and was finally treated as a disease in Malawi and not treated as just an infection that were treated with Antibiotics,” Duke said.

The NGO continued to work with doctors at the special Breast Clinic at Queen Elizabeth Central Hospital with medical consumables for testing and screening and by end of 2017, some 762 patients were referred to the clinic and 400 patients received triple breast cancer assessments.

“About 45 patients had confirmed breast cancer but only 10 showed early signs while the rest sadly advanced into stage breast cancer.

“Sadly, 20 percent of the 400 patients did not return for their results as they don’t have any money for travel to go back to check for their results.

“To reach out to people in the rural areas, we designed a breast cancer awareness flyer that was translated from English into Chichewa with illustrations for people who can’t read.

“For breast cancer awareness to be enhanced, there is need for people to have regular self examination and also to go for screening at least once a year at our screening clinic at Chitawira Private Hospital.

“If people see any changes in their breasts, they are encouraged to have them seen to immediately,” she said.

October is the Breast Cancer Awareness Month, observed globally, which helps to increase attention and support for the awareness, early detection and treatment as well as palliative care of this disease.

There are about 1.38 million new cases and 458,000 deaths from breast cancer each year, as according to a reports by IARC Globocan.

The report said breast cancer is by far the most common cancer in women worldwide, both in the developed and developing countries.

In low and middle income countries the incidence has been rising up steadily in the last years due to increase in life expectancy, increase urbanization and adoption of western lifestyles.

Currently there is not sufficient knowledge on the causes of breast cancer, therefore, early detection of the disease remains the cornerstone of breast cancer control.

When breast cancer is detected early, and if adequate diagnosis and treatment are available, there is a good chance that breast cancer can be cured.

If detected late, however, curative treatment is often no longer an option. In such cases, palliative care to relief the suffering of patients and their families is needed.

The majority of deaths occur in low and middle-income countries, where most women with breast cancer are diagnosed in late stages due mainly to lack of awareness on early detection and barriers to health services.

World Health Organisation (WHO) promotes comprehensive breast cancer control programmes as part of national cancer control plans.

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4 years ago

good work, for rural areas may be try linking with the community health department and join them when they are going for child growth monitoring trips. in that way rural women can come for child health plus breast cancer screening

4 years ago

It is really uplifting to read of the work being done by this charity. It deserves support.

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