And so when students of the Spiritan University College located at Ejisu in Ashanti recently trooped to the Kumasi-based specialist Peace and Love Hospital (PLH) and its sister medical Non-governmental Organisation, Breast Care International(BCI) to learn about breast cancer as a vital aspect of the current health care situation in the country, they scored full marks in their obvious pursuit of knowledge.
Statistics of the World Health Organization(WHO) indicate that a woman somewhere around the globe dies from breast cancer every 69 seconds making it one of the deadly diseases world-wide.
It has also been revealed that even though breast cancer cases are surging globally, mortality in Europe and North America has remained relatively low while Africa, South America and some parts of Asia consistently register high mortality rates.
The afore-mentioned represent an outline of the global mortality rates of breast cancer but an insight into the scourge as narrated by Dr. (Mrs.) Beatrice Wiafe Addai, a prominent breast care expert and consultant breast surgeon paints a more horrific picture of the disease in the country.
Ghana is ranked the 10th country with the highest burden of the disease in Africa. In fact, the disease has been identified as the leading cause of deaths among women, accounting for the majority of hospital admissions across the country.
Though the cause of the disease remains unknown, it is believed that awareness about its signs, symptoms and risk-factors constitutes a major key to its prevention and effective treatment.
Unfortunately in our part of the world, Dr. Wiafe Addai notes, breast cancer in particular is typically reported at advanced stages when effective treatment and curability becomes virtually impossible. An initial research pin-points ignorance as the main factor for the consistent late presentations of women to medical facilities.
Dr. Wiafe Addai, Chief Executive Officer of PLH and president of BCI, Ghana’s foremost Non-governmental organization engaged in breast cancer advocacy and awareness creation further observes that myths and misconceptions surrounding the disease in the country constitute one of the most significant barriers to the administration of effective treatment and successful prevention of deaths.
“Fate, curses and spiritual orientations”, she emphasises, “are not the causes of this disease but they rather facilitate the consistent late presentations of women thus increasing the high mortality rate in Ghana”.
The students also stumbled on a combination of factors including lack of counseling and access to treatment facilities, inadequate treatment and high costs of medications as some of the barriers preventing women from seeking help from the appropriate avenues at the appropriate times.
Imbued with the determination to make a change, empower women with the correct knowledge about the disease and halt the needless deaths, BCI, in tandem with PLH have over the past 13 years been undertaking outreach programmes in the urban and rural communities to raise awareness about the disease and the need for prompt treatment.
Besides the community outreach programmes of awareness creation through free breast cancer education and breast screening exercises, BCI and PLH are also targeting students of the second cycle schools to equip them with adequate and effective knowledge about the signs and symptoms of the disease in addition to empowering them to serve as educators in their homes and communities.
To help address the problem of inadequate and incorrect treatment of the disease, BCI and PLH have initiated a plan to establish an oncology training programme at PLH for nurses from other health facilities in the country. About 80 nurses have already been trained.
In plain language, Dr. Wiafe Addai told the students that” there is still a long way to go in the fight against breast cancer” but exuding optimism she declared that “ the work of BCI and PLH will make a difference in the lives of Ghanaian women”.
Touching on the role of a group of breast cancer survivors operating under the umbrella of Peace and Love Cancer Survivors Association(PALSA) in the outreach programmes, she explained that “ they serve as role models in illustrating the point that the disease is indeed treatable and survivable if detected early and prompt action taken. We do as much as we can to let the Ghanaian people know that our women are breast cancer survivors”.
The female students were clinically screened for breast abnormalities and also received free breast care kits comprising a DVD and a booklet containing educational information on breast care, a gel glove designed to make breast self-examination easier and more comfortable as well as a carrier pouch that ensures the longevity of the glove.
Impressions? So impressed were the students by the operations and good work of BCI and PLH that at the end of the tour they were not only unambiguous in their pledge to pay more visits but also firm and unanimous in their resolve to join the breast cancer crusade.
By Frank Kojo Otchere