Despite being highly preventable, treatable, and curable when detected early, cervical cancer continues to claim the lives of hundreds of thousands of women worldwide every year, particularly in low- and middle-income countries. Among women living in the Palestinian refugee camps and gatherings of Lebanon, the barriers to early detection and treatment include a lack public awareness about cervical cancer and the cost of diagnostic tests.
Medical Aid for Palestinian (MAP) and local partner Developmental Action Without Borders (Naba’a) run an annual Cervical Cancer Campaign as part of a broader reproductive health project in South Lebanon. The campaign includes public health education activities where information is shared about the disease, including its causes and symptoms, screening and testing methods, and the importance of early detection. Free-of-charge consultations with the project’s doctors and pap-smear tests are also provided as part of the campaign.
The project’s nurse, Rasha*, described some of the challenges to preventing avoidable deaths from the disease:
Women often forego or delay testing for many reasons. For example, mothers in the camps often prioritise spending the little money they have to buy food or clothes for their children instead of paying for tests. Some women also say that they don’t want to leave their children alone while they go to the clinic or health center to do the test. I always respond by saying that the cost of missing the chance to detect cervical cancer at an early stage is way more expensive and painful for you and your loved ones.
Other mothers tell me that they prefer not knowing if they have the disease as they will not be able to afford the cost of cancer treatment.
Costs of cancer treatment in Lebanon are high and are not fully subsidized by UNRWA, the main provider of health services for Palestinian refugees in Lebanon, or any other organisation. This leaves patients often having to self-fund treatment. With unemployment and poverty rates high among Palestinian refugees, this simply isn’t an option for many families.
Regular cervical screening, however, can detect precancerous lesions and changes, meaning that steps can be taken to prevent progression to cervical cancer. The project team therefore encourage women to seek relevant services, and facilitates their access by waiving their test fees.
More than 400 women every year participate in the Cervical Cancer Campaign activities and benefit from the free screening opportunities. According to Lama*, a campaign participant:
Without the project’s team encouragement and free services, I would have not been able to do the test for cervical cancer. The project’s doctor and nurse provided me with all the needed information before doing the test. This made me feel prepared and ready to accept the results regardless of whether they are positive or negative.
Fadia*, a participant in one of the campaign’s awareness sessions, said:
If I had not attended the awareness session, I would have not been encouraged to screen for cervical cancer. In fact, I didn’t know what cervical cancer is. Now, I want to book an appointment to do the test.
Nurse Rasha is pleased with the impact of the team’s work: Year after year, I see more women like Fadia and Lama self-referring to the clinic to discuss symptoms or ask for testing a matter that was not common in the past, she said. This will help save lives.
Source: Medical Aid for Palestinians