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February 4th marks World Cancer Day. The United Nations sets aside this date to highlight the world’s continuing challenges in the fight against cancer. This year’s World Cancer Day theme focuses on Target 5 of the World Cancer Declaration: Dispel damaging myths and misconceptions. Misconceptions about cancer are especially prevalent in Palestine, where cultural stigmas often prevent the proper diagnosis and treatment of the disease.
Although chronic conditions have replaced communicable diseases as Palestine’s biggest medical concern, the culture and infrastructure needed to diagnose and treat cancer has not caught up. Cancer is the third leading cause of death in Palestine, trailing only cardiovascular and cerebrovascular diseases, and accounts for 11 percent of all deaths. Cancer is rarely diagnosed in the early and treatable stages of the disease. In Palestine, 42 percent of cancer cases were not caught until they had spread locally (Stage III) and 18 percent until they had spread throughout the body (Stage IV). Delays in diagnosis and treatment are partially the result of a lack of advanced equipment and trained healthcare professionals who can provide a comprehensive examination and diagnosis.
Late cancer diagnoses also stem from cultural obstacles to early cancer detection and treatment in Palestine. For example, religious and cultural barriers are significant factors that prevent Palestinian women from accessing mammograms, which are used for early breast cancer detection (One study found that more than 70% of women in the West Bank had never had a mammogram). As film producer Saed Andoni explains, “It’s very taboo to speak about the woman’s body in Palestinian society.” Andoni produced “Fatenah,” Palestine’s first commercial animated film, which profiles a female character from Gaza who faces numerous obstacles to accessing treatment for breast cancer.
While the societal challenges facing cancer treatment in Palestine will take a long time to overcome, there are already organizations working to mitigate the problems associated with a lack of equipment and trained personnel. One of ACP’s partners, Augusta Victoria Hospital (AVH) in Jerusalem, is making great strides in this area. AVH has created the most advanced oncology department in Palestine, which houses medical oncology, radiation oncology, and surgical oncology units. Each year, the hospital performs almost 10,000 sessions of radiation oncology and at least 9,600 chemotherapy sessions. Thanks to a grant from USAID, the hospital recently purchased a $4.9 million medical linear accelerator to help treat the cancer patients, making it the first hospital with radiation therapy for Palestinian population.
AVH does not only treat the residents of Jerusalem, but also provides services across Palestine. Close to 30 percent of all cancer treatments are for patients from Gaza, who are housed in a hospital-rented hotel room for the duration of their treatment. As Amira Juha, AVH’s Deputy CFO explains, AVH provides an unparalleled level of treatment for Palestinian cancer patients: “There is a profound human dimension to our work that makes me so proud to oversee its development projects. Everything we do is focused on serving our patients and building an institution that embodies Palestinian excellence in East Jerusalem.”
This World Cancer Day, support Augusta Victoria Hospital’s work for a cancer-free Palestine.
- $25 will help fund a birthday party for a child in the cancer center or kidney care center
- $40 can pay for a breast mammography for a woman in a remote village through the mobile mammography unit
- $50 can sponsor an end-of-treatment party for a child with cancer
- $500 can provide a small piece of medical equipment for children with cancer and leukemia for medications infusion
- $800 can sponsor a hotel room for a Gaza cancer patient undergoing treatment at AVH
-by Patrick Fogerty, American Charities for Palestine