Great women of our time

It’s a bet­ter world be­cause of those who are will­ing to go above and be­yond their call of duty to make a dif­fer­ence. Three women were re­cently hon­oured by the Women’s Weekly mag­a­zine as Great Women of Our Time for their out­stand­ing achieve­ments and their

The Star Malaysia - Star2 - - FRONT PAGE - By S. INDRAMALAR star2@thes­tar.com.my

Pre­vent­ing and treat­ing can­cer

Dr Christina Ng

Con­sul­tant on­col­o­gist Dr Christina ng started health nGo, Em­pow­ered, to ed­u­cate un­der­re­sourced com­mu­ni­ties on can­cer, in 2009.

Em­pow­ered raises aware­ness and knowl­edge on can­cer and treat­ment op­tions, and pro­vides screen­ing and treat­ment.

“through my prac­tice at a pub­lic hos­pi­tal early in my ca­reer, I wit­nessed how wrong med­i­cal de­ci­sions made by pa­tients, par­tic­u­larly those from low-in­come house­holds, re­sulted in pre­ma­ture death. Many un­der-re­sourced com­mu­ni­ties don’t have ac­cess to in­for­ma­tion, treat­ment and emo­tional sup­port in deal­ing with can­cer and I wanted to pro­vide a struc­tured can­cer sup­port pro­gramme for th­ese com­mu­ni­ties,” says Dr ng, who grad­u­ated from the univer­sity of Mel­bourne in aus­tralia.

Em­pow­ered, she says, hopes to save lives through early de­tec­tion of can­cer. as col­orec­tal can­cer is cur­rently the most com­mon type of can­cer af­fect­ing men and the sec­ond most com­mon can­cer af­fect­ing women in Malaysia, much of Em­pow­ered’s fo­cus is on col­orec­tal can­cer.

“Risk aware­ness and proac­tive screen­ing in Malaysia re­main a chal­lenge. our so­lu­tion is to first raise aware­ness about the disease and also the im­por­tance of a healthy diet and ac­tive life­style. se­condly, we con­duct screen­ing work­shops and in­ter­ven­tion pro­grammes,” she ex­plains.

to make sure they reach the com­mu­ni­ties they are tar­get­ing, Em­pow­ered brings their work­shops lit­er­ally to the doorsteps of the peo­ple who need their ser­vices most.

“We work with com­mu­nity lead­ers not only to en­sure the so­cial and cul­tural val­ues of each com­mu­nity are in­cor­po­rated into our pro­grammes, but also to get them to play a key role in the pro­grammes. We lit­er­ally knock on doors to dis­sem­i­nate in­for­ma­tion and en­cour­age res­i­dents to par­tic­i­pate in our screen­ing pro­grammes,” she says.

In un­der-re­sourced com­mu­ni­ties, Dr ng points out, health is of­ten a lesser pri­or­ity.

“For th­ese com­muni- ties, sur­vival is their pri­or­ity. Many hold sev­eral jobs just to make ends meet. they may not be so will­ing to spend time screen­ing for can­cer. But by bring­ing it to their doorsteps, we are able to make our ser­vices more ac­ces­si­ble and in­crease our reach,” she says.

ng’s per­sis­tence has paid off. Em­pow­ered sees bet­ter re­sponse to the screen­ing kits handed out to com­mu­ni­ties, from a 66% re­turn rate in 2010 to 85% in 2012.

“We col­lab­o­rate with a team of doc­tors in gov­ern­ment hos­pi­tals to en­sure med­i­cal tests for those who have been di­ag­nosed. all costs are borne by Em­pow­ered and we make ar­range­ments to pick the pa­tients up from their homes for their sub­se­quent ap­point­ments. We also give them moral and emo­tional sup­port, which is an im­por­tant part of can­cer treat­ment,” she says.

so far, Em­pow­ered has reached 50,000 ur­ban poor Malaysians in the Klang Val­ley, be­gin­ning with their pi­lot pro­gramme in sen­tul in 2010.

set­ting up Em­pow­ered was def­i­nitely a chal­lenge, ad­mits Dr ng, who had no prior ex­pe­ri­ence set­ting up an nGo, let alone run­ning one.

“thank­fully I had a lot of help and sup­port from my fam­ily, friends and col­leagues. It has been a learn­ing ex­pe­ri­ence. It still is, but I think we have de­vel­oped ef­fec­tive strate­gies to help us over­come chal­lenges and achieve our goals.

“When I see the ex­pres­sions on the faces of the peo­ple we serve and hear their grat­i­tude, it is easy to for­get the chal­lenges we faced in ful­fill­ing our mis­sion. My goal is to run more pro­grammes, es­pe­cially in ru­ral ar­eas and also to tar­get other preva­lent can­cers,” she says.

con­sul­tant on­col­o­gist dr christina Ng started em­pow­ered to give the poor ac­cess to can­cer ed­u­ca­tion and treat­ment.

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