Rabat – Like any public health threat, a nation needs to develop a strategy to both inform people and to reduce the incidence of that threat. In the late 1990s and early 2000s, several US states and many more cities began adopting tough no-smoking laws for indoor spaces like restaurants, bars and office buildings. Public attitudes on smoking were changing partly due to the effect of public information campaigns—created by health organizations and state-level health agencies. Indoor clean air laws led to dramatic declines in adult smoking rates. Information led to change.
Cancer is one of the most feared diseases that a person may face. Globally, more than 14 million cancer cases are now diagnosed each year. The Moroccan Ministry of Health recently released data on cancer in the kingdom. Nearly 40,000 Moroccans are diagnosed with cancer each year. Breast cancer is the most common form of cancer in Moroccan women, accounting for 36 percent of all female cancer cases.
Rural Morocco, like rural America, faces the challenge of adequate medical care to diagnose and treat cancer. A Centers for Disease Control (CDC) study released this past July indicated a slower reduction in cancer death rates in rural America compared with urban America. In discussing cancer with my Moroccan neighbors during my Peace Corps service I found a modest degree of apathy and resignation toward the illness; perhaps a byproduct of the mystery that still surrounds the disease and the complicated nature of diagnosing and treating it. Moroccans, like Americans, place great importance in religious faith and spirituality to provide strength during medical crises and treatments. Faith is a powerful ally when confronting disease and cancer should not be seen as a death sentence.
Three key facts about cancer that help demystify the disease:
- Cancer is more of a phenomenon in the body than a static disease. Bodies are living organisms, as we grow our cells divide and replicate. Copies and more copies. Again and again. Our bodies find these dangerous mutations (cancer) and correct the problem. Usually. But the longer one lives the more difficult it becomes for the body to detect and correct all these faulty mutations. Live long enough and you’ll likely have cancer.
- Cancer mostly affects people at middle age and older. In the US, about 77 percent of invasive cancers (inside the body) occur in people over 55.
- Therapies are allowing people who have cancer to live longer lives. Chemotherapy, radiation therapy, and, most recently, immunotherapy (using the body’s immune system to contain and destroy cancer cells). The benchmark five-year survival rate in the US for the most common forms of cancer is now about 66 percent, up from 50 percent in 1975.
Knowledge is Power
Two weeks ago, Princess Lalla Salma inaugurated a new breast cancer public awareness and screening campaign for women. Organized by the Lalla Salma Foundation for Cancer Prevention and Treatment, the campaign — with this core theme: early detection saves lives — seeks to increase breast cancer awareness and to encourage screening for women ages 40 to 69. At a cancer symposium in Marrakech two weeks ago, the director of the foundation called for more involvement of civil society in the development of health policies, noting “nothing can be done in a field in Morocco without the involvement of civil society.” He’s exactly right.
In 1971, President Nixon signed the National Cancer Act which better organized and funded federal resources to combat the disease—the War on Cancer. It also helped remove the stigma for those dealing with cancer. Patient empowerment is an important part of the treatment process. Just as it should be in Morocco.
The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not represent any institution or entity.
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