ISLAMABAD - First Lady Begum Samina Alvi said on Sunday that nearly 44,000 women die of breast cancer every year in Pakistan due to late diagnosis.
She stressed that thousands of women and their families could be saved if it was diagnosed at an earlier stage, with chances of survival up to 98 percent. She regretted that there was a lack of awareness about the early symptoms of this disease in Pakistan and as a result, the disease keeps spreading silently and proves fatal.
The first lady was addressing the Pakistan Foreign Office Women’s Association’s (PFOWA) annual charity bazaar.
The spouses of Islamabad-based diplomats organized stalls on the occasion depicting the culture, cuisine, and artifacts of their respective countries. The proceeds of the charity bazaar will be used for the welfare of the low-income staffers of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
Begum Alvi said that they had started a comprehensive, inclusive, and nationwide breast cancer awareness campaign. “One of the major challenges before us was to convey our message to women living in far-flung areas of the country. Most of the cancer cases in Pakistan were reported in the third or fourth stages, which not only made the treatment painful and expensive but also reduced the chances of survival. Apart from this, mammography, ultrasound, and screening facilities are either lacking in our country or these facilities are very expensive,” she added.
Referring to autism, children with disabilities, and the importance of early detection of breast cancer issues, she said that these initiatives hold immense importance, as they have the potential to save many lives. About progress on public awareness, Begum Alvi said that they had reached out to millions of mobile users across the country with the help of ringback tone and messages, and in this year, over 140 million SMS on breast cancer had been sent to mobile users in Pakistan.
She said that now the number of cancer cases in the third and fourth stages has decreased in different hospitals in Pakistan, while the reporting of cancer cases in the first and second stages has increased.
Now, mammography, ultrasound, and screening facilities are being provided at subsidized rates in different hospitals across the country, and the number of these facilities has also increased, she added.
Similarly, the first lady said they had worked to shatter misconceptions, foster inclusivity, promote inclusive education and rehabilitative services, and ensure equal opportunities for persons with disabilities (PWDs).
“One of our aims was to bring about behavioral change in society towards them, create sensitivity in our society towards their issues, and make them feel part of the mainstream,” she added.
The first lady also urged the provision of skills, training, and jobs to persons with disabilities as per their aptitude and skillset.
The first lady said that they had also asked international experts on disability to contribute their energies to train teachers to impart education to children with disabilities.
Begum Samina Alvi opined that children with different abilities should be given the opportunity to learn and grow with other children because, in this way, they would be socialized and society would also become more aware of their special needs.
About the issue of mental health and early counseling, she said that they were taking the initial steps towards building healthier communities and trying to educate the people that mental health was an important aspect of their overall health and well-being.
“As per one estimate, almost 24 million people in Pakistan need mental health counseling and services,” she shared.
The first lady alluded to the acute shortage of mental health facilities and trained professionals in Pakistan and said that they were making efforts to connect with trained overseas Pakistani professionals and international experts, asking them to donate their time and expertise to train and advise people in Pakistan.
“Similarly, artificial intelligence, chatbots, and IT tools are being used in Pakistan to extend mental health counseling services and advisory services to people in need,” she maintained.
She appealed to the media to continue to talk about such issues and continue to create awareness through programs, talk shows, morning shows, dramas, news bulletins, and public service messages.
The first lady also congratulated members of PFOWA, the Foreign Service community, the diplomatic corps, and private organizations for their unwavering support and contributions to the success of this event.
She appreciated PFOWA for its significant contributions to social welfare and said that the annual charity bazaar served as a testament to their unwavering dedication.
Speaking on the occasion, Secretary of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs Syrus Sajjad Qazi said that the annual charity bazaar featured handicrafts and cuisines from different parts of the world, and the proceeds of the bazaar would go to the charitable activities of POFWA. He also commended the social welfare endeavors by the POFWA.
Patron PFOWA Shaista Jillani said that the event was a manifestation of POFWA’s commitment to making a positive difference in society and serving the people in need.
President PFOWA Shazza Syrus Qazi, in her remarks, said that POFWA had been endeavoring for the last 70 years to serve the people in need and contributed to the flood victims in Pakistan as well as the people of Gaza and earthquake victims in Turkey and Syria.