International Medical Corps has launched cancer screening services for Iraqi refugees throughout the Middle East in response to rising numbers of cancer cases among this population.
Nearly a decade of violence and sanctions crippled Iraq’s capacity to provide the training and resources necessary to develop an active base of medical professionals highly specialized in modern cancer treatment methods. As a result, Iraq has a very limited number of practicing radiation oncologists with experience in administering radiation treatment. There are even fewer medical physicists and radiation therapists practicing within the country and few facilities providing radiation treatment. This has resulted in the lack of capacity to sufficiently meet the need for cancer treatment in Iraq and contributed to a significant increase in the number of cancer-related deaths and disabilities. In addition, low levels of awareness – over 70% of cancer patients in Iraq are diagnosed at an advanced stage – result in cure rates of only 10-20%. Cancer incidence itself increased from 31.1 per 100,000 people in 1991 to 52.8 per 100,000 people in 2006 in Iraq. Survival levels in the Middle East overall are significantly lower than in Europe and the United States despite the fact that the most commonly occurring cancers are both preventable (bladder and lung) and detectable at an early stage (breast, oral, colon).
Through funding from the Department of State, International Medical Corps is implementing a national radiation oncology training program in Iraq to build local capacity. The training program, designed to meet needs in a variety of medical professions, has been successful in generating enthusiasm for improving radiation therapy and medical physics in the country. We also established the National Center of Excellence at Baghdad Nuclear Medicine and Radiotherapy Hospital and completed a series of cohort trainings in advanced technology at American University in Beirut.
Recently, International Medical Corps leveraged its expertise in the health care field to build the capacity of medical staff in Syria and Jordan to screen and treat common cancers. We incorporated awareness-raising activities, screening, and treatment of common cancers into the Bureau of Population, Refugees, and Migration-funded Regional Iraqi Refugee Health Assistance Program in early 2010. In Syria, International Medical Corps expanded health education services at supported clinics to include awareness on breast, cervical, and testicular cancers. The capacity of the Masaken Barzeh Clinic in Damascus was further developed to include screening services for breast, cervical, and testicular tumors and specialized care extended to cases with positive results.
In Jordan, International Medical Corps is working with the Jordan Breast Cancer Program (JBCP) to provide mammography, ultrasound investigation, and pathology biopsy to Iraqi women identified through International Medical Corps-supported clinics’ early detection and screening services. International Medical Corps and JBCP jointly review cases with confirmed diagnosis of breast cancer and allocate resources as available to the most vulnerable for treatment. For testicular cancer, we refer cases to the King Hussein Cancer Center and/or other medical institutions. Additionally, International Medical Corps has incorporated cancer services into its health education sessions at static and mobile clinics and community outreach efforts conducted by trained community health workers. Health education activities taking place through static and mobile clinics along with the community outreach efforts are complemented through a healthy lifestyle campaign targeting beneficiaries of International Medical Corps-supported services at the community level. The campaign promotes healthy diet, physical activity, smoking cessation and health care seeking behaviors that are essential in the prevention of chronic diseases and cancer.
International Medical Corps is a key player in the health sector and has been implementing a wide range of comprehensive health programs in the Middle East since 2003. Building the capacity of physicians through Continuing Medical Education, integrating mental health services into primary health care systems, and expanding quality and affordable health care services to vulnerable populations are priority areas in Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon, and Syria. International Medical Corps works closely with local Ministries, as well as domestic and international stakeholders, to prioritize and implement responsive and sustainable health interventions.