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Somali, Ugandan Youth Vs Cancer Featured

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By Umar Weswala

Hawa Nakandi (L) and Shukri Mohammed (3rd Left) with some of the people who took part in the campaign (photo by Umar Weswala)

A Uganda based Somali youth activist Shukri Mohammed and her Ugandan counterpart Hawa Nakandi recently launched a cancer awareness campaign targeting the Somali Community in Uganda.The week long campaign under the theme “Saving Lives through Cancer Prevention and Early Detection” was held in Kisenyi, a dominantly Somali neighbourhood in Kampala city.  The two, both members of the U.S. Department of State initiative Generation Change Uganda Chapter say when it comes to cancer, everyone needs to know the facts because everyone is at risk.

According to Shukri Mohammed, the founder of Somali Youth Action for Change – SYAC, the Somali community perceives cancer as a curse and that Muslim believers are therefore immune to the disease.

“My Grandmother died of cancer” says Shukri who believes that there are many more Somalis who are at risk, many who are suffering from the disease and many who are dying of the disease.  

According to the World Health Organisation – WHO, cancer is one of the leading causes of death worldwide accounting for 7.6 million deaths annually (2008). It is said that 70 percent of these deaths occur in low and middle income countries.

Shukri and Hawa told The Community Agenda that they are not only driven by the alarming cancer death statistics but also by the fact that 30 percent of these deaths can be prevented if the people are sensitized.

“Cancer cases caused by poor diet, obesity, lack of exercise, tobacco and alcohol or drug abuse can be avoided if the public is informed” says Hawa Nakandi, the founder of Young Health Advocates Initiative – YHAI, a team of young medical doctors.   

The two young women are faced with a task of not only passing on basic information about cancer but also demystifying the perception of cancer by the Somali community. They are fighting deep cultural resistance - not only to the idea that cancer affects people but also to the idea that they must talk about it, know it, recognize it and start fighting against it.

“During this campaign, we will teach them the symptoms of cancer, how they can screen themselves and where they can go for further assistance” said Hawa, a medical practitioner by profession.

To Shukri Mohammed and Hawa Nakandi, their partnership and struggle against cancer will continue after the one week campaign. The two met in late 2012 through Generation Change Uganda Chapter.

“I found a very resourceful partner thanks to Generation Change” Shukri said.

One of the Generation Change mentors, Ahmed Haji told The Community Agenda that networking is a key component of the Generation Change mission. “I am glad to see that Generation Change has already had an impact on these young change makers and the community” he said.

The fact that this particular cancer campaign is targeting the Somali Community in Uganda should however not be mistaken to mean that Uganda as a country is safe.

Recent findings by the Uganda Cancer Institute show that cancer cases in Uganda increased from 15,000 in 2010 to 33000 in 2011with children cancer cases accounting for about 5 percent.

It is reported that over 1,500 children in Uganda are diagnosed with cancer annually.

A massive and well planned campaign similar to that against HIV/AIDS and malaria may have to be deployed in order to avert the growing threat posed by cancer.

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