December 9, 2014
This December, a delegation from the University of Sydney, Australia visited Ras Al Khaimah to raise awareness about breast cancer and to begin a formal research study through the Al Qasimi Foundation’s seed grant program.
“We recognize that breast cancer prevalence, severity, and age of onset are significantly different in the Middle East than they are in other regions,” explains Ms. Caitrin Mullan, the Foundation’s Community Engagement and Outreach Program Manager, “and so far, evidence indicates that women’s hesitance to pursue preventative care often results in higher incidences of breast cancer fatality in the emirates.”
For this reason, the Foundation is supporting a local study of breast cancer with the hope that women can become better advocates for their health and for their neighbors’ health through the efforts of researchers at the University of Sydney and in Ras Al Khaimah.
“In the Gulf region, women experience breast cancer ten to twelve years earlier than do women in other regions, so we need to do something for younger women,” explains Dr. Zakia Hossain, one of the University of Sydney’s researchers, who has studied breast cancer awareness and perspectives among Muslim women.
The partnership between the Al Qasimi Foundation and University of Sydney has led to a collaboration, which has two major research components, among Sydney, RAK Hospital, and the Ras Al Khaimah Medical and Health Sciences University (RAK MHSU).
The first study is being conducted with RAK Hospital and is designed to establish the best method of conducting breast screenings for women in Ras Al Khaimah. As part of the study’s data collection process, the Foundation seed grant is sponsoring mammograms for 100 local and expatriate women.
The second study is being administered by RAK MHSU and focuses on interviews with Ras Al Khaimah women in order to better understand their beliefs and attitudes regarding breast cancer and preventative screenings.
Both the breast screening data and sociological data play fundamental roles in promoting women’s health in the emirate, which is part of the Foundation’s growing focus on public health.
“We need women to participate in these studies because we want to have a representative sample of women, both of national and expatriate origin,” explains Dr. Patrick Brennan, who is Sydney’s research leader for this endeavor. “We also want to have a good spread of opinions and thoughts around breast cancer screening processes because until we understand these things, we cannot offer the community the best possible methods of improving breast cancer detection.”
Several local women attended the opening workshop at RAK Hospital, in which Sydney’s Dr. Patrick Brennan and Dr. Martin Mackey gave participants insight into breast cancer detection and preventative care.
As a result of this event, some women have already volunteered to be interviewed as part of the second study, which is being led by Dr. Zakia Hossain and University of Sydney PhD student Mr. Salman Al Beshan and administered by students and faculty at RAK MHSU.
Such interest among local women bodes well for the study because its success depends on community participation, which Dr. Brennan puts into perspective.
“When we have a community — a group of women — engaged and informed about breast cancer and breast cancer screening, and when those women work closely with their doctors to promote attendance at breast cancer screenings, we see tangible benefits for women within that community,” says Dr. Brennan.
The Al Qasimi Foundation joins these researchers in taking an extended and holistic perspective on improving women’s health in Ras Al Khaimah. The seed grant collaboration, therefore, includes data collection, public education efforts, and strategic international partnerships.
“What we hope to do over the three-year program is to be able to present some preliminary data and to get the involvement of the local community in helping to identify the best ways to encourage women to come for breast screenings,” says Dr. Martin Mackey, who is part of the Sydney team.
The participation of local institutions like RAK Hospital, RAK MHSU, and the Foundation, whose specialties are not strictly medical research, is necessary for the success of Sydney’s research efforts because, as Dr. Mackey reminds us, “Research doesn’t occur in a vacuum.”
“We can raise awareness, but if there is not system — no policy — nothing can be done. We need to raise awareness with the help of the policymakers because their help is very important,” says Dr. Hossain. “If women know that they need to go see a doctor, and if there is no support, no system in place, then that doesn’t really help them.”
It is for these reasons that the Al Qasimi Foundation labors to share its various research findings with local policymakers, who were invited to a December 7 Majlis event that introduced the community to this breast cancer study.
“Ultimately,” says Dr. Ridge, executive director of the Al Qasimi Foundation, “initiatives supporting public health benefit everyone from women to their families to the broader community, and we hope to have many more such initiatives in our community.”
To learn more about the Sheikh Saud bin Saqr Al Qasimi Foundation for Policy Research, visit www.alqasimifoundation.com.