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Analysis: Breast Cancer prevalence weighs on Ethiopia’s frail health care system

Meron Kebede, founder of founder of Pink Lotus Ethiopia breast cancer support group
Photo: Ministry of Health

By Etenesh Abera @EteneshAb  

Addis Abeba, January 8, 2022 -Breast cancer is one of the most prevalent cancer types in the world. According to the World Health Organization (WHO) more than 2.3 million women were diagnosed with breast cancer in the year 2020 alone with 685,000 registered deaths globally. Likewise, breast cancer is the most prevalent cancer type in Ethiopia accounting for 32 percent of total cases with more than 20,000 people being diagnosed with cancer annually.

Dr. Endale Anbereber is an Oncology surgeon at Balck Lion specialized hospital. He explained that the exact cause of breast cancer is not known. However, it is possible to look out for predisposing factors such as smoking, alcohol, and obesity, “As with other cancer types, breast cancer can not be cured but early screening is the best way to detect and treat it in its early stages. According to him, the standard screening mechanism for Western countries is mammography but for countries like Ethiopia the procedure is very is expensive. He advises women to get regular clinical examinations or if that is not possible to check their breasts once a month.  

The oncology surgeon is of the opinion that factors such as lack of awareness, people’s preference of traditional medicine to modern treatment, lifestyle choices, and aging are increasing the number of breast cancer cases in the country. Dr. Endale explained that the admission of patients to the hospital long after cancer has advanced is the main challenge he faces. “Most of the time the patients make it to the hospital after cancer nears the final stage which makes the treatment very difficult and unfruitful,” he said. He also discussed how most health centers lack basic cancer treatment services. “Patients are forced to get on long waiting lists until they receive treatment. It is common to see the disease advancing to worse stages while patients are on the waiting list, including at Black lion hospital,”  Dr. Endale said. 

Dr. Endale disclosed the hospital’s plan to launch an initiative to open a one-stop breast cancer clinic that consists of surgery, chemotherapy, and other treatments in the same place. In collaboration with Martin Luther King college in Germany, the hospital has already started conducted clinical screening about three months ago. He underlined the need to do screening, especially for women who are predisposed and have a family history of cancer. 

Meron Kebede, a survivor of stage three Breast cancer, like Dr. Endale stresses the need for early screening. She is the founder of Pink Lotus Ethiopia’s breast cancer support group. ‘’ I founded this support group to help those who pass through breast cancer treatment as I did,” she explained, adding, “We also work on creating awareness about early the importance of detection of breast cancer.”

The support group held meetings via social media platforms including youtube to exchange information and questions during the pandemic. The Pink Lotus Ethiopia breast cancer support group has a telegram channel with over 800 followers. 

The support group exchanges advice on the side effects of chemotherapy and a suitable lifestyle for cancer survivors, Meron said. She explained her ambitions to   upgrade the support group to a foundation, “Our group organizes fundraisings for cancer patients from outside Addis Abeba to get them admitted to private hospitals.” 

She concluded her remarks by disclosing her additional plans to work with stakeholders to make breast cancer treatment easily available to those who can’t afford it. “We want the government to hear our pleas to provide chemotherapy free of charge, especially for patients from rural areas, she said, adding, “Other diagnosis machines like mammography should be easily accessible. The government should also increase human power in oncology departments.” AS

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