Pink Caravan has administered more than 16,000 mammograms and educated thousands more about breast cancer, but there’s still work to be done so they march on.
According to the Abu Dhabi Department of Health, breast cancer is the most common type of cancer diagnosed in the UAE. Approximately 4,500 new cases are reported each year and cancer is the third leading cause of death in the country.
The good news is that 98 percent of breast cancer cases are curable if detected early, and the UAE is determined to decrease cancer fatalities by 18 percent before 2021. Initiatives such as Pink Caravan, which aims to spread awareness about the importance of regular screening and early detection of breast cancer, are helping to make that goal attainable.
What is Pink Caravan?
Pink Caravan is an initiative that falls under the Friends of Cancer Patients programme for early detection of cancer. It was launched in 2011 on the heels of the umbrella organisation’s tenth anniversary when the board was seeking to enrich programming and broaden its reach.
The organisation was no stranger to staging talks and conducting informational sessions around the topic of breast cancer awareness and the importance of early detection, but the message needed to travel faster and farther. Consequently, the Pink Caravan Ride, whereby experienced horse riders travel to each of the seven emirates to promote Pink Caravan’s mobile screening sessions, was started. The ride takes place annually with scheduled stops in each emirate. This year’s ride starts on 23rd February and ends in Abu Dhabi on 1st March.
“Every time we tried to educate the community about breast cancer, we found that there was a hunger to not only know more but also learn how people can take action,” explains
Dr Sawsan Al Madhi, director general of Friends of Cancer Patients and head of Pink Caravan. “This is where the Pink Caravan idea came from. Pink Caravan is not just awareness, it’s awareness, early detection and screening in the sense that I will go to the community, I’m not waiting for the community to come to me, and I will go to you with a fully equipped and fully staffed caravan.”
The purpose of Pink Caravan is to go beyond messaging and pair education with action, to break down geographic and financial barriers to better healthcare by providing access to clinical breast examinations even in the most remote areas of the community.
Pink Caravan had three clear objectives when it began: to raise awareness about breast cancer, lobby for the creation of the UAE’s national cancer registry and purchase a mobile mammography unit. The organisation has accomplished all three.
A unified cancer registry was announced by the Ministry of Health two years ago. To date, the Pink Caravan Ride has travelled over 1,715km across the seven emirates with over 569 riders and more than 770 volunteers. More than 16,000 mammograms have been delivered and the Pink Caravan Ride has also visited 87 schools.
“Reflecting on the last nine years, it has been quite the journey”, Dr Sawsan says. “When we started Pink Caravan in year one, we didn’t have a mobile unit. We worked with government and private health clinics and we used to refer women to them. Then we rented a van and we learned how to run it and utilise it in the most optimal way possible. So, we had a crash course on how to manage a mobile medical clinic for about five years before we embarked on our own journey to obtaining our own van.”
“What makes the van exciting is that we made a mini clinic that caters for pap smears so that way women can have a cervical cancer screening and breast cancer screening at the same time – we are very proud of that achievement.”
This year, Pink Caravan will be expanding its services with the addition of a smaller mobile clinic to accommodate a slightly different demographic. The organisation will take another step forward by ensuring effective treatment for diagnosed cases of breast malignancy through genetic testing.
Continued success hinges on the riders, medical staff, institutions and individuals who donate their time and money. If you’d like to make a donation to Pink Caravan, visit: focp.ae
To find out when the ride will be in your neighbourhood, visit: pinkcaravan.ae
WORDS Tamara Clarke