Community, Dollars Making A Difference, Global
By: Mary Woods
Underserved Women In Panama
year, on February 4, passionate individuals and communities around the world
raise their collective voice, take personal action and show support for a
healthier, brighter future for all.
Cancer Day raises awareness and education of the disease that claims the lives of
9.6 million people each year and impacts the global economy by $1.16 trillion.
In Latin America, where breast cancer is the most
common cause of cancer-related deaths among women, Komen has been making
inroads through an integrated, intercultural approach.
“The region is characterized by
huge geographic and socio-economic disparities related to access to breast
cancer education, early detection, diagnosis and treatment,” says Komen’s Director of
Global Programs Anna
Since 2011, with the help of a grant from the
Caterpillar Foundation, Komen, in partnership with a host of others including
the Breast Health Global Initiative, ministries of health and the Pan American
Health Organization, is improving the odds for women battling the disease,
especially among rural, indigenous communities where the greatest burden lies
with limited resources to quality breast health.
Filling the gaps
One of the countries of focus is Panama. Concentrating
on Panama City, Komen identified health care system deficiencies and
community-level disparities including lack of breast cancer information,
awareness and social support networks.
“To address these gaps, Komen has implemented strategic activities
that include a grant program to fund interventions to increase breast cancer
education,” explains Cabanes. “We are trying to reduce barriers that limit
access to breast health and cancer care as well as provide a quality of care
program geared to health care providers of the public sector.”
Collaborating with the civil society group, Coordinadora
Nacional de Mujeres Indigenas de Panama (CONAMUIP), the Komen team has
implemented projects that focus on the education of indigenous women from
Cativa in Colon and Nargana. Breast cancer education and early-detection
messages and videos provide reliable, evidence-based and culturally appropriate
information about the importance of early detection.
“The project seeks ultimately to empower underserved
women to be proactive and knowledgeable on how to communicate with health
professionals about their breast health,” explains Cabanes.
Empowering women to take action
“Finding time for
your breasts” (Saca el tiempo para tus mamas) is just one national media campaign organized by FundAyuda
to promote breast self-awareness and early detection of breast cancer. By
delivering strong messages, FundAyuda seeks to alert women to the importance of
taking preventive action year-round.
Leveraging the Panamanian government’s initiative to reduce
saturation of hospitals and clinics in October (breast cancer awareness month),
FundAyuda’s messaging encourages women to get screened during their birthday
month, complementing their regular visit to the doctor. Screening services are
provided to women at discounted rates for individuals who commit to getting
A safe haven
Nonprofit Hostel Fundación Casita de Mausi is stepping in to
provide temporary shelter to uninsured cancer patients with low economic
resources living in communities outside of Panama City. Casita arranges
transportation and scheduling of services at Panama’s National Cancer
Institute, while offering a clean bed, nutritional meals and educational
sessions on breast cancer. Casita guests also have the opportunity to be
accompanied by a family member or friend.
Care at all levels
recommendations from a studyin 2013 of four rural provinces and indigenous
communities in Panama, Cabanes and team created actionable interventions that
inspired the government and civil society to collectively take action to
improve access to cancer treatment and support services.
diagnosis aren’t exclusively due to a woman not seeking care in a timely
manner, but also a result of health care providers not recognizing the signs
and symptoms of breast cancer or breast cancer recurrence, and not referring
women in a timely manner” she explains.
program efforts ensure that health care providers delivering services at all
levels of the continuum of care (screening, diagnosis, treatment, and
survivorship) are equipped with the appropriate skills and knowledge to address
the needs of breast cancer patients in their local communities.
The Virtual Campus of the Pan American Health
Organization (PAHO) is also a vital platform for a country-wide capacity
building effort targeting health care providers in the public sector. Guided by
the Ministry of Health and the national cancer plan, workgroups with health care
providers document referral pathways for patients with breast cancer, as an
impetus for addressing gaps along each continuum.
The curriculum offers a standardized continuing
education opportunity for providers who may not have had prior education on
breast cancer and will be able to deliver better quality care for the country’s
most vulnerable communities as well as indigenous groups. Trainings are
delivered through in-person meetings and web-based trainings.
The work ahead
Leading up to World Cancer Day, Cabanes spent a week as part of a
training program in Panama filled with activities geared to improve the quality
of breast care in the country’s public health system. Working collaboratively with
a platform of many stakeholders she can’t help but reflect on the work that has
been done to improve the lives of so many.
“I am a breast cancer advocate and I will work so where a woman
lives doesn’t determine whether she lives.”
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