Breast Cancer Toll in Pakistan – which has the highest rates of breast cancer in Asia as it ranked 135th on Gender Development Index out of 174 countries and ranks lowest in the South Asian region in terms of GDP per capita for women. It ranked 100 out of the 102 countries measured on the Gender Empowerment Measurement (GEM) 1999. The level of women’s health in Pakistan is among the lowest in the world, according to a World Bank report. In the conservative society of Pakistan, women cannot dare to say anything about the female breast in the public domain or even in private. On top of that, the increasing radicalization of the conventional Pakistani society makes it difficult to talk about breast cancer awareness, the single most significant cause of death for women in Pakistan.
Hope is the Dark — Pink Ribbon takes The Initiative
In 2001, the situation towards breast cancer was so critical that the word “breast” was considered vulgar on state TV and there was no concept of a discussion on awareness. This is why in 2003, Pink Ribbon Campaign was launched. Pakistan has the highest rate of breast cancer in the whole of Asia where one in nine women is at the risk of a breast cancer diagnosis, accounting for 40,000 deaths every year. Dismally low public spending on health and a strictly traditional society collude to worsen the impact of breast cancer in Pakistan.
The campaign has used a top-to-bottom approach with a focus on public-social-private partnerships. The successful advocacy interventions of the campaign resulted in signing agreements with federal and provincial ministries to include breast cancer in reproductive health packages and ban taxes on the import of all drugs and tests related to breast cancer. The launch of national Youth Awareness Program in partnership with Higher Education Commission and issuance of 500,000 commemorative stamps by Pakistan Post Office have also been satisfactory results.
Free National Breast Screening Program
Through the Ministry of Health, we have been instrumental in initiating a trial Cancer Registry and inclusion of a chapter on Breast Self-Examination in the training manual of Lady Health Workers. We also succeeded in running a Free National Breast Screening Program in 14 cities with the support of the government.
Spreading Breast Cancer Awareness
Pink Ribbon Free Public Service Messages on breast cancer awareness are now being run by all Cable TVs supported by Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority (PEMRA). Pakistani Prime Minister’s wife became the campaigns’ Chairperson for 2 years. We also hosted a six days’ visit of the wife of the British Prime Minister Mrs. Cherie Blair to Pakistan in 2006 in support of the campaign.
Impact of Pink Ribbon Exhaustive Campaigns
The impact of the campaign despite the numerous challenges has been significant as according to the statistics of Ministry of Health there has been a 30 percent increase in patient turn-up at the Breast Clinics nationwide since 2004 when Pink Ribbon started its campaign in Pakistan.