Thirty-four percent of Egypt’s 49.8 million women are at risk of breast cancer, according to the Baheya foundation for early detection and treatment of breast cancer. A presidential initiative is now trying to encourage greater willingness to test for breast cancer in as many as 28 million women above 18, with free treatment provided.

The campaign is scheduled to run over six months, with each stage lasting two months per selected governorate. In the ongoing first phase, expected to run till the end of August, women will be attended to by specialized medical committees In 1,030 health units across the 9 governorates of Alexandria, Port Said, Beheira, Qalyubia, Damietta, Matrouh, South Sinai, Fayoum, and Assiut. The next tier of governorates will get their turn from early September to end of October, to culminate in a December finish.

According to the Central Agency for Public Mobilization and Statistics (CAPMAS), 23 percent of Egypt’s female population are unemployed while more than 30 percent are illiterate. This probably accounts for the indifference with which many women regard breast cancer, despite it being the second leading cause of death among them. The country’s health minister Hala Zayed was once quoted as saying “the Egyptian women prefers to spend her money on her children rather than to [spend money] to be treated,” an observation that prompted the government through the health ministry to finalize plans to arrange early detection and free treatment.

The country has been committed to reaching as many women as possible with various targeted efforts over the years. Between 2007 and 2017, the health ministry said it screened about 180,000 women for free, with the government spending LE 8million on the imported screening devices.

Women tend to live longer than men in Egypt, by as many as five years. Egyptian women can live up to 75 years, even as experts caution that it is wiser for women above forty to regularly check for breast cancer. Thus, with Egypt’s above 40 female population of 32 million, this initiative could trigger an increase in female life expectancy, especially if it is seen through to the finish. With more women surviving, the percentage of home-runners might also witness an upsurge from the meagre fourteen percent reported in 2017.

This, of course, is all tied to a drive for women’s empowerment. If more women expect to live long, then they are more likely to take on more businesses, civil causes, and generally throw themselves into large, demanding contributory roles. This initiative is a step in the right direction for a country that wants its labour market to be 40 percent women-inclusive by 2030, an example that other African nations will do well to emulate. According to the Global Cancer Observatory, an estimated 94,378 cases of breast cancer are diagnosed yearly in sub-Saharan Africa. With a continent-wide adoption of national programs like this, Africa can reverse the ugly trend.

By Caleb Ajinomoh

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