It was inaugurated in 2020 by First Lady Samina Alvi and offers a safe place for women who need information about breast cancer.
It is not easy for women to talk about breast cancer in Pakistan. The disease is permeated by social stigma, which is particularly worrying as Pakistan has the highest incidence of breast cancer in Asia. The hesitation to talk about breast cancer, to open up if you or your loved ones suffer from it, hinders a person’s chances of getting proper treatment. Many lives are lost simply because the disease is not caught on time. This is where the National Breast Cancer Helpline aims to step in – a telephone service that helps women open up about breast cancer despite taboos and access high-quality healthcare.
The National Breast Cancer Helpline is run by a digital healthcare company called DoctHERs, which established the service in partnership with First Lady Samina Alvi. According to the team at DoctHERs, the First Lady, an ardent advocate of breast cancer awareness, made it a priority to “inaugurate a national helpline that could provide timely access to information and resources about the disease”.
“When we spoke to the first lady, there were a few points that both parties agreed would be the key to establishing a reliable helpline,” said the team at DoctHERs. “[The helpline should give] access to quality, anonymous and convenient care. [It should lead to] a safe place for women to call in and get information [that is] medically examined and presented in a culturally sensitive manner. It should [also] be run by an all-female team of nurses, doctors, psychiatric professionals and pharmacists. “
With all this in mind, the National Breast Cancer Helpline was inaugurated by First Lady Alvi in September 2020. A year later, the team has a good understanding of how people respond to breast cancer and use the helpline.
What kind of help does the helpline offer?
The helpline is open to both men and women. “Really anyone who might have questions about breast cancer [can call in]”, said the team. It offers:
- General information on breast health and breast cancer
- Referrals to local and national resources such as hospitals, clinics and radiology centers for mammography
- Mental support for patients, survivors and their families
- Assistance in establishing agreements with consultants
- Material on how to perform breast self-examinations
What happens when someone calls the helpline for help?
When a person calls in for help, the process is quite simple. “Calls are answered and triaged by care coordinators or nurses who understand the query first,” the DocHER team said. The caller then receives a call back from a relevant healthcare provider, such as a female doctor or therapist.
“The triage process allows us to gather information and ensure we connect the caller to the right resource to address their concerns accurately,” they shared.
What kind of calls has the guide received since its inauguration?
It has been a year since the National Breast Cancer Helpline has been active, and so far it has handled more than 4,000 inquiries on all sorts of topics when it comes to breast cancer. “We have had women call us after they discovered a lump and now need support for what to do now,” they said. “We have had [calls from] families seeking help to locate diagnostic centers for mammography and ultrasound. We have had families – and even doctors – call us and ask if they can be connected to patient care programs that offer financial aid. ”
The Helpline has also provided emotional support to friends and family of people diagnosed with breast cancer. “Men and women contact us after finding out that someone close to them, such as a relative or friend, has been diagnosed with breast cancer. They call us for emotional support.”
Fighting myths and misinformation
For the team behind the guideline, much of what they do involves destigmatizing breast cancer by separating facts and myths. “There are so many misconceptions about breast cancer,” they said. “Misinformation about who is at risk and what it means when someone in a family is diagnosed. Much of our time is spent briefing callers about facts versus myths.”
According to Dr. Komal Rizvi, Head of Mental Health at DocHERs, says 48% of women in Pakistan do not have an impact on their own health issues, and this figure is multiplied when it comes to rural women, the vast majority of whom do not have access to health care. high quality or are unable to access health care on their own, often relying on male family members to support them.
“So many women we talk to have had lumps for years that were not diagnosed and left untreated,” the DocHER team said. “By the time they come in contact with our doctors, their disease has developed and the odds are stacked against them.”
The social problems often strike after the diagnosis. “We have been in contact with women who were diagnosed with advanced breast cancer and required immediate surgery, but their families were reluctant to have them treated. There is concern that if news comes out about a mother who has breast cancer, it can affect the marriage prospects of his daughters.
“There is resistance on the subject, and we must create awareness among both women and men to address [the issue], like any other medical condition. “
Breast cancer can be treated if it is detected early
Women should be encouraged to open up about any sign of breast cancer they notice, as diagnosis at the right time can potentially save many lives throughout Pakistan. “Whose [the disease] detected early. it can be treated and can have a good prognosis, “said DocHERs.” It is absolutely heartbreaking that women [in Pakistan] is still dying of breast cancer in 2021, despite the fact that the disease can be managed if the signs are caught early.
“One piece of advice for Pakistani women is to get to know your bodies really well. Develop a relationship with your body and connect with it. Pay attention to the things that cause [you to feel] be ashamed of your bodies and loose contact with it. Our bodies are beautiful, we need to prioritize our health and learn to love and care for them. “
The national breast cancer helpline is 0213-873-7373.