Local health officials have released a pair of short videos that feature prominent Qataris urging local residents to shed the stigma around cancer and “challenge” the disease head-on.
Despite being one of the leading causes of death in the country, some Qataris have an aversion to being tested and seeking treatment, according to Emma Walsh, a program manager at the National Cancer Program – a collaboration between the Supreme Council of Health (SCH), Hamad Medical Corp. (HMC) and the Primary Health Care Corp (PHCC).
She added that some patients may be aware they’re suffering from a disease that could be cancer, but only seek treatment at a hospital emergency department once it reaches an advanced stage and manifests into other symptoms or illnesses.
Speaking to reporters at a press conference on Monday, Welsh said:
“There is a natural fear attached to the stigma – just saying the word ‘cancer’ has negative connotations …
It’s stronger in the Qatari community…(where) we’ve seen a greater sense of alienation of people with cancer, and a perception that they are somehow weaker … However, our campaign focuses on breaking the silence and encouraging people to take early measures to test and treat their disease across the entire population of Qatar.”
The two black-and-white videos feature well-known local residents such as television presenter Dera Al Dosari, Ooredoo executive Buthaina Al Ansari, singer Fahad Al Kubaisi and fashion designer Fahad Al Obaidly.
The first, titled #QatarAgainstCancer, acknowledges that cancer “is a word we don’t want to utter … and an issue we don’t want to confront.”
But, the spokespeople note, many types of cancer are preventable and curable. The video ends with a call to “confront” cancer through courage and optimism, as well as by “breaking the silence barrier.”
The second video, I Pledge to Stand Up to Cancer, features spokespeople promising to publicly refute myths about the disease, encourage friends and family to seek necessary medical treatment and spread hope and courage among those battling cancer.
The two versions of the videos – with English subtitles and without – have already been viewed more than 300,000 times on YouTube. Over the next three months, the clips will be shown at movie theaters in Villaggio and City Center malls, as well as at the Pearl’s new Novo Cinemas.
Qatar is not the only country battling taboos around cancer screening and treatment. In recent years, published reports have noted the stigma of cervical cancer in India and Turkey, as well as breast cancer in Pakistan.
Locally, officials say the most common forms of the disease include breast, colorectal, urological, prostate and bladder-related cancers.
The video campaign is the NCP’s latest initiative to break stereotypes and minimize the stigma attached to cancer, which is estimated to be responsible for approximately 10 percent of all deaths in Qatar.
Earlier this year, the NCP organized a two-day family fun day at Katara that attracted more than 4,500 people, according to a report in the Gulf Times. Along with providing entertaining activities for families, the event was intended to spread awareness as well as conveying practical advice and information about cancer.
The NCP also plans to contribute to an art exhibition in the women’s ward of HMC and conduct cancer awareness programs in universities around Qatar as part of its programming for Breast Cancer Awareness month in October.
Separately, the Qatar Cancer Society recently produced its own video to both raise awareness as well as break local taboos about discussing life-threatening diseases.
At the time of its release, however, some residents pushed back against the idea that cancer is a taboo subject in the community, saying lack of awareness about the illness may play a larger factor in delaying treatment.
And finally, government-backed telecom company Ooredoo announced plans earlier this year to contribute QR10 million (US$2.75 million) towards the construction of a local cancer center to provide general education as well as support for residents battling the disease.
While getting people talking about the disease is an important first step, organizers say their ultimate goal is spurring residents to take action that could save lives:
“The goal of the program is not just awareness, or breaking social taboos, but to transform awareness into behavioral changes,” Walsh said.