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Taking a pragmatic cue from VRA’s Aboadze facility

BY: Ajoa Yeboah-Afari

OCTOBER, the global Breast Cancer Awareness Month noted for annual free breast screening, may have ended but for the women of Aboadze, the chargeless help is not over. There is gratifying news for them about a new scheme.

They now have access to weekly free breast examination, courtesy of the Volta River Authority (VRA), instead of once a year; available every Wednesday for the catchment area inhabitants.

Earlier this week, the good news came from the VRA, specifically from its hospital at Aboadze, Western Region.
A Daily Graphic report of November 3 announced that:
The Volta River Authority Hospital at Aboadze in the Shama District in the Western Region has instituted a year-round free breast cancer screening for its host communities.

The company has dedicated every Wednesday to free breast cancer screening in its health facility at Aboadze.
With this arrangement, the company said it would no longer wait for Breast Cancer Awareness Month in October to screen and create awareness of the disease.

Speaking at a breast cancer awareness programme at Aboadze, the General Medical Superintendent of the VRA Hospital, Dr Charles Arhinful, said it was important to check for the condition regularly and seek prompt medical attention.

The critical moment of breast cancer, he said, was the early detection, hence the need for free walk-in screening at the hospital, where people would be made aware of their status.

He, however, explained the hospital would soon establish a centre to provide treatment at a fee, saying “screening is free but the treatment will not be free.”
Significantly, the theme for the Awareness observance this year was ‘Early detection saves lives’.

A World Health Organisation source explains that “the Breast Cancer Awareness Month, marked in countries across the world every October, helps to increase attention and support for the awareness, early detection and treatment as well as palliative care of this disease.
“There are about 1.38 million new cases and 458 000 deaths from breast cancer each year Breast cancer is by far the most common cancer in women worldwide, both in the developed and developing countries …

“Currently there is not sufficient knowledge on the causes of breast cancer, therefore, early detection of the disease remains the cornerstone of breast cancer control.

“When breast cancer is detected early, and if adequate diagnosis and treatment are available, there is a good chance that breast cancer can be cured. If detected late, however, curative treatment is often no longer an option.”

It appears that what is often overlooked is that it is not only women who can be afflicted by breast cancer. Men, too, can become victims, as explained by Dr Mawusi Kemetse of the Franklin Medical Centre, in Accra, in an article in this newspaper’s issue of last week (October 31).

She suggested that men, too, should go for breast cancer screening as the cancer “could be more dangerous in men than women.” There is need for society to do away with the myths surrounding breast cancer, including the belief that it afflicts only women, “since the disease is no respecter of persons,” she pointed out.

In recent years, it has become the practice with some health facilities in Ghana, to offer free breast examination during the Awareness Month, in order to detect early signs of the terrible disease, and if a patient needs to be put on treatment, to begin it immediately.

I think the VRA initiative, the free screening throughout the year, is highly commendable and a strategy which should be adopted by other hospitals in Ghana. It’s a wonderful, progressive idea and the VRA leadership deserves praise for supporting its Aboadze management, as they must have done, to implement this novel health strategy.

Similarly, as indicated, it seems to me that the country would benefit immensely if Ghana’s health system could make it possible to have regular free medical check-ups for other severe health conditions nationwide. However, as with the VRA Aboadze Hospital plan, treatment after the free examination could attract a fee.

One example that comes readily to mind is the annual screening for glaucoma, the eye disease that can cause permanent blindness. Every year, during Glaucoma Month and Week, in March, free eye examinations take place in many parts of the country.

As glaucoma is ‘the silent thief of sight’, it is through these free eye checks that many people have escaped blindness because their affliction was detected early and they began treatment. Had they not benefitted from the free screening, they could have gone blind without warning.

Thus it would be a realistic move if vulnerable people could have access all year to free weekly, or even monthly, eye examinations, as well as for other critical diseases, without having to wait for a year if for some reason they miss the annual one.

Therefore, I hope that Minister of Health Hon Kwaku Agyeman-Manu and the Ghana Health Service have been made aware of, and are paying attention to, the Aboadze initiative. In my opinion, if the health authorities take a cue from the VRA’s ingenuity, it would be of great benefit to all: early diagnosis, early treatment and lives saved.

So ‘well done!’ to General Medical Superintendent Dr Charles Arhinful of the VRA Aboadze Hospital and his management team for this brilliant, humanitarian idea.

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