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Addressing Stigmatization in the Fight against Breast Cancer

Wed, 26 Jun 2013 Source: Bulmuo, Bruce Misbahu

. By: Bruce Misbahu Bulmuo

Stigmatization has usually been a problem when efforts are being made to address several diseases such as the menace of breast cancer and HIV/AIDS. In Africa, healthcare workers and volunteers have had to dedicate considerable time and attention to educating people to embrace patients who are suffering from these diseases and many others.

Although some levels of success have been achieved in educating the public that HIV/AIDS is just a disease á la malaria, fever, et al, the same cannot be said of the cancer related cases, especially breast cancer.

Medical practitioners and community based organizations that have dedicated their time to conducting breast screenings, education to create awareness, counselling, advocacy and rehabilitation are still faced with the challenge of stigmatization. The problem of stigmatization is so serious that women are even scared to avail themselves for free breast screenings during outreach programs conducted by Peace and Love Hospital (PLH) and Breast Care International (BCI) in rural and most urban centers.

The women who dread the fear of stigmatization would prefer to live without knowing their status rather than living in perpetual fear and being shunned by the very community they have lived all their lives in.

The canker of stigmatization no doubt even facilitate the death of patients more than the disease itself and this underscores the need to equally direct more attention to fighting it before it becomes too late.

PLH and BCI which have played a lead role in breast cancer awareness creation at the local, national and international levels for over a decade are now directing attention to tackling stigmatization especially in the up country areas.

Breast cancer like many other cancers is claiming the precious lives of Ghanaians although it is curable, and this has become a concern to health professionals who are working in that area.

Among many urban and rural dwellers, the disease is largely seen as a curse and the nature of advanced cases of breast cancer reinforces such misconceptions among many people.

When at an advanced stage an offensive odour accompanies a discharge from the breast that usually affects the social life of patients. Research has revealed that breast cancer can be hereditary and because one family would be noted to have incidence of the disease occurring among them the idea of a curse firmly takes root more so because of the premium placed on the supernatural in our part of the world. The psychological effect on patients who have to live their lives thinking that they are under a curse is very horrible and unimaginable. This has to stop to give patients the opportunity to come out and seek proper diagnosis and treatment. Like many other social constructs, this curse (mis)theory associated with breast cancer has been a stumbling block in the way of treatment. Patients keep the disease to themselves and stay at home until it is too late.

Breast cancer is curable when detected early, at which time the cost of treatment is also affordable. But when at an advanced stage, treatment options become less and expensive.

Ignorance accounts for stigmatization and it is in this regard that PLH and BCI have incorporated teachings to educate society to accept breast cancer as a mere disease that is curable and preventable.

The President of Breast Care International, Dr. (Mrs) Beatrice Wiafe Addai, has said on several platforms that it is needless for women who are the majority of breast cancer patients to die from the disease when options are available for treatment.

Community based organizations operating in the health sectors have worked hard to reduce the stigma HIV/AIDS patients underwent and it is about time a similar effort is extended to breast cancer management.

Once the disease is curable and preventable, it is inexcusable to fold arms and allow stigmatization to stand in the way of efforts to help women whose contribution to the economy is very significant.

Columnist: Bulmuo, Bruce Misbahu