In honour of Breast Cancer Awareness Month, The Democratic League of Albanian Women (LDGSH) has launched a new initiative to raise awareness of breast cancer, under the slogan “We love ourselves, we love life”.
Albanian women suffer a high mortality rate of the disease, due in part to a lack of proper healthcare and delays in obtaining a correct diagnosis.
Albana Vokshi, the head of the LDGSH addressed an audience of women from administrative districts 6 and 7 in Tirana, as well as political figures, doctors, journalists, lawyers, artists, and members of civil society. Notable individuals in attendance included Tritan Shehu, doctors Mirela Tabaku, Henrik Zoto, and Arben Beqiri, civil society activists Egla Bardhi and Adriatik Lapaj, art lecturer Taulanta Jupi, and journalist from ‘BOOM’ investigative show, Fiori Dardha.
“There is a much higher mortality rate in Albania than in other EU countries because there is a shortage of treatments, services, extensions of chemotherapy sessions, and mammogram facilities. In October, which is breast cancer awareness month we should be more aware of the lack of specialised doctors, lack of a database of persons affected by cancer, and a lack of prevention and treatment planning,” Vokshi said in her speech.
She called on women and girls to all join in the battle for health and for life, as this battle should not just last month, but 365 days a year.
Mirela Tabaku, a gynecologist noted that there were some 700 new cases of breast cancer every year in Albania with 230 women dying over the same time frame.
“The main problem comes from a bureaucratic health care system. The money going to the lab concession could have covered all the tests for affected women, as well as much needed medication,” she said.
Tritan Shehu then said he believes that all women and girls should have regular screening to make sure that the disease is caught in time. He also noted the difference between Albania and EU countries.
“Cancer mortality in Albania is around 70% whereas in the rest of Europe it is just 30%. This difference is due to the fact that in the EU they have better medication and diagnostics, the disease is caught early, and the health system is well organised and accessible to every citizen,” Shehu said.
Doctor Arben Beqiri explained how breast cancer is an easily treatable and curable disease but added that there need to be reforms and “significant transformations” in the health industry in order to decrease mortality rates.
Another issue facing cancer patients is instances of injustice and ill-treatment, a point that was highlighted by Egla Bardhi and Adriatik Lapaj. They noted how some patients have even turned to the courts to get them justice, winning millions of euros in damages for the difficulty they experienced in accessing adequate health care.
“The goal is to treat all women with dignity and to respect their constitutional rights,” they said.
According to other speakers at the event, self-diagnosis is one of the key ways that women can help themselves. By examining themselves and knowing what to look out for, they can spot the warning signs in between health checkups and screenings.
Journalist Fiori Dardha spoke of her mother’s struggle with breast cancer five years ago.
“When a mother gets sick, the whole family gets sick,” she said, “but when there is timely diagnosis it is a great help. I call on every woman to take care of themselves and to not hesitate in going to visit their doctor.”
LDGSH has planned similar awareness raising activities in other parts of Tirana as well as other cities around the country.