Public-private partnerships join forces to echo breast cancer awareness

Apart from non-melanoma skin cancer, breast cancer is the most common cancer in women, with a lifetime risk of 1 in 27 in South Africa,
Apart from non-melanoma skin cancer, breast cancer is the most common cancer in women, with a lifetime risk of 1 in 27 in South Africa,

In 2018 alone, there were approximately 2.1 million new cases of breast cancer diagnosed worldwide accounting for a quarter of all cancers in women, according to the latest National Cancer Registry. With the risk of breast cancer as high as 1 in 27 women in South Africa, breast cancer awareness should be echoed in every community.

“Every woman in South Africa has the right to affordable and accessible healthcare and the only way we can do this is through public-private partnerships, or as I like to call it the four P’s: patient, public-private partnerships,” says Louise Turner, Chief Operations Officer of the Breast Health Foundation.

The Breast Health Foundation (BHF) is a non-profit organisation that was established in 2002 with the aim of increasing awareness on breast cancer and breast health. Besides creating breast health awareness in South African communities, the BHF navigates patients through their journey with breast cancer from screening and diagnosis to treatment and recovery. Turner, who is a breast cancer survivor herself, say they see the future of healthcare in South Africa in one word: collaboration.

One such collaboration that has already paved the way for accessible healthcare is the partnership between the BHF and the Discovery Fund. “The support that we’ve received from the Discovery Fund has enabled the women we help through the Breast Health Foundation to still provide for their families while receiving treatment,” Turner says.

In 2017, the paths of these two organisations crossed for the first time when the Discovery Fund put half-a-million rand towards the BHF’s development of a programme which further educates nurses in community health centres about breast health. By having trained nurses perform clinical breast exams at local clinics, potential breast cancer in-patients can be identified early on, before patients are symptomatic.

Turner says that they’ve also found that women in smaller, rural communities struggle to get access to the proper facilities for regular screenings or treatments, which are usually in bigger metropolitan areas. In the small community of Hoedspruit in Limpopo, for example, cases of potential breast cancer were being detected at the local Hlokomela Women’s Clinic, but with no effective referral pathway.

Since 2017, the has walked 15 women through their breast cancer journey. This relationship was facilitated by the Discovery Fund, with the broad aims of collaboration and sharing of resources across its’ projects. “The Women’s Clinic is so much more holistic than the plan for it originally was. It has developed into a safe haven for women,” says Sonja Botha, a professional nurse who runs the Hlokomela Women’s Clinic.

In 2018, the Discovery Fund, who also supports the Hlokomela Women’s Clinic, further donated over a million rand to a grant that enables the BHF to facilitate breast cancer referrals from the Hlokomela Women’s Clinic to the Helen Joseph Hospital in Johannesburg.

“Since 2010, Discovery has been supporting Hlokomela’s efforts to treat and prevent HIV among farmworkers – a vision that aligns directly with the third UN sustainable development goal of making people healthy and promoting wellbeing at all ages. The Hlokomela Women’s Clinic takes this vision further and aims to improve the health of women by giving them access to critical healthcare services such as pap smears, mammograms, and breast health services.

Ruth Lewin, Head of Corporate Sustainability at Discovery, says, “Economists over decades identified the importance of addressing the socio-economic potential of women to guarantee the success of society as a whole. So, when women have access to material resources and healthcare for both themselves and children, it has socio-economic benefits to society as a whole. To this end, the Discovery Fund has prioritised the child and maternal healthcare services to guarantee the sustainability of the full healthcare ecosystem.”

And while the Covid-19 pandemic has paused a few of their future plans, the Discovery Fund and the BHF look forward to an ongoing partnership. By providing funding to the BHF to research the need and desired services for breast cancer services.

This year, R1.5 million was allocated towards the establishment of a chemotherapy treatment centre at Tintswalo Hospital in Mpumalanga, where no such facility existed for the women of this area. Turner says she looks forward to seeing it take flight in the near future and proactively contributing towards prevention and early detection of breast cancer.  

This post was sponsored by Discovery and produced by BrandStudio24.

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