With just one breast cancer center, Afghanistan struggles to cope with the disease

Dr. Abdullah Maihan

:: Struggling with a weak health care system, conflict-ravaged Afghanistan has just one diagnostic center for breast cancer in the entire country — built in Kabul nearly a year ago, Dr. Abdullah Maihan, head of the National Cancer Control Program at the Public Health Ministry, told Arab News.

Breast Cancer is the second major cause of death among Afghan women after childbirth. The latest research on the prevalence of breast cancer in Afghanistan, conducted by World Health Organization (WHO), in 2012, placed the country in the list of nations with highest number of deaths caused by breast cancer.

“With 40 [reported] cases in 100,000, Afghanistan is one of those countries where deaths due to breast cancer is highest in the world,” Maihan said.

“According to WHO estimates of 2012, except for Pakistan, Afghanistan has the highest number of (breast cancer) cases compared to Iran, China, India, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan and Turkmenistan,” he added.

A large number of people from the rural and conservative parts of the country are hesitant to take their female family members to the diagnostic center because the surgeons are mostly men. Many are unaware of the causes of the deadly disease, its symptoms and, more importantly, about the presence of the center.

Abdullah claims that based on WHO’s research estimates, “cancer cases and deaths are on the rise.”

Data from the Health Ministry shows that the three most deadly forms of cancer in Afghanistan during 2013 were stomach cancer, “tracheal, bronchus and lung cancer” and breast cancer, respectively.

Afghanistan imports 90 percent of the much needed medicine from abroad while Afghans spend tens of millions of dollars annually for receiving treatment, including medical procedures for cancer overseas, mostly in India, according to local press reports.

“Women most prone to death caused by breast cancer in Afghanistan are above the age of 80. The disease is least threatening to women between the ages of 15 and 19,” according to the data.

The government’s main tool to fight against the disease is public awareness. First Lady Bibi Gul (known previously as Raula Ghani) recently co-founded the Afghanistan Cancer Foundation in this regard to reflect the Afghan government’s focus on the issue.

The WHO, however, recently warned that the disease may increase twofold in Afghanistan over the next two years, reiterating its commitment to fight against breast cancer, according to the Daily Outlook paper.

“Out of 20,000 cancer patients in Afghanistan, 7,000 of these are breast cancer cases,” the Daily Outlook paper cited Dr. Richard Peeperkorn, WHO representative in Afghanistan, as saying.

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