Toronto Rising Stars hope to shine light on Bangladesh

Through innovative technology Bangladeshi women may soon be able to receive earlier detection and treatment of breast cancer, thanks to a team of Toronto Rising Stars and a competion funded by the federal government.

Dr. Ophira Ginsburg is the deputy scientific director for the International Breast Cancer Research Foundation (IBCRF). In June, Ginsburg submitted a proposal to the Canadian Rising Stars in Global Health competition to help fund a ground breaking breast cancer awareness and treatment initiativde in Bangladesh.

The International Breast Cancer Research Foundation has been working in Bangladesh since 2008, attempting to break down the social and physical barriers to proper treatment of breast cancer.

“We want to go where we are asked and where the need is perceived by the local community of cancer care providers, what the people in other non-profit agencies see the need and by the women themselves,” she said.

Earlier breast cancer detection in Bangladesh will be conducted through a randomized controlled trial to determine if women with a suspicious breast problem will want to receive medical attention from Bangladesh’s first cancer care centre.

The community health workers are Bangladeshi women and are well trusted within the community. Part of their job is to go door-to-door and ask each household if there are any adult woman living there.

If there are, the community health workers then hold a private and confidential interview regarding their breast health. They ask a set of specific questions drawn up by oncologists. If the community health workers find that any of the women need to be professionally examined one of three scenarios occur.

The community health workers are equipped with a mobile phone that has embedded software strictly for this purpose. The first option is for the community health workers to collect and report the information and then show the women a motivational video of patients at the breast centre followed by an offer to make an appointment at the centre.

Secondly, using the same cellphone and process, the community health worker accompanies the woman to her appointment at the centre. Thirdly, the cellphone is not used and a paper system is in place to collect the woman’s information and appointment booking.

It is through the advanced technology of cellphone use, combined with the embedded software and the peer-to-peer navigation, that makes Dr. Ginsburg’s project unique. The videos on the cellphone are designed to challenge the stigma surrounding breast cancer and to enable more women to receive medical attention.

Breast cancer for women in Bangladesh is shrouded in stigma and fear. In Canada and the United States, the dialogue surrounding breast cancer awareness is something that is taken for granted.

While the majority of people have some knowledge regarding breast cancer, what it is, how it can be treated and where to go for help, in developing countries, the majority of women think of breast cancer as a death sentence.

The stigma surrounding the illness means most cases go untreated and the survival rate for those with the disease is significantly lower than in developed countries.

Having submitted the proposal, Dr. Ginsburg is anxiously awaiting the results from Canadian Rising Stars in Global Health competition, one of five grand challenges launched by Grand Challenges Canada, an organization funded by the government’s foreign aid budget.

Lyn Whitham, VP of communications for Grand Challenges Canada told the Toronto Observer that the competition “is targeted to emerging scientists… the reason is because funding is hard to get for these young, bright people and so we’re anxious to see what their ideas are and what they want to contribute to global health.”

The winners of the Canadian Rising Stars in Global Health competition will receive a grant funding their project.