Pink Sari project needs to go whole nine yards

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Breast cancer awareness campaign for Indian and Sri Lankan women needs to go nation-wide as communities are least likely to get preventive tests, feel health service providers

A successful breast cancer awareness campaign for Indian and Sri Lankan women in New South Wales needs to be rolled out to other states to stop cancers going undetected, campaign organisers and community leaders say.

The Pink Sari Project was launched last September to address the fact that Indian and Sri Lankan women are least likely to get preventative tests for breast cancer in NSW – the statistics are based on the number of women using breast screening services.

The campaign is funded by the Cancer Institute of NSW to run in that state but “there is a need” for it to roll out nationwide, according to Jesusa Helaratne, media manager for NSW Multicultural Health Communication Service (MHCS), which is leading the project with NSW Refugee Health Service.

“There is a need, especially in Melbourne because there is a bigger community of Indians and Sri Lankans there,” Helaratne told the Indian Sun.

Community activist and political advisor Jasvinder Sidhu agrees that the Pink Sari Project should be launched in other parts of Australia.

“We do not have data for Victoria but the attitude of community would not be very different in Victoria as it is in New South Wales,” he told the Indian Sun.

“My work and research shows that the Indian community generally does not use available resources and services as much as it should.

“One of the reasons can be that some of the available services in Australia do not exist in India or are not offered in the same form.”

Sidhu said new migrants were particularly in need of education about health services, like breast screening.

“Regular health check-ups including among women to get preventive screening for breast cancer are not so common – even in India a general awareness about breast cancer is very low.

“A newly migrated community carries the same attitudes, unless projects such as Pink Sari proactively make an attempt to change community attitudes,” he added.

The trend for people to bring elderly parents from India and Sri Lanka to live with them in Australia has also increased the need for education about breast cancer, said Rajan Suresh, CEO of EpilepsyWA and himself a cancer survivor.

“As they are an aged community, they would require higher levels of screening and assessment,” Rajan said.

Research shows older women have a higher risk of developing breast cancer, with 50% of women diagnosed with breast cancer between the ages of 50 and 74.

Rajan threw his weight behind the Pink Sari Project going Australia-wide, saying migration patterns have seen South Asian communities settle right across Australia.

“Yes there are significant pockets in NSW and Victoria but Queensland and WA have also had their fair share of these migrants.“

Lack of awareness about breast cancer, cultural beliefs, modesty, not knowing where to go for services and language barriers are all reasons South Asian origin women don’t get tested, according to Helaratne.

“Even some friends of mine who are Sri Lankan say ‘No I don’t want information – they’re scared,” she said.

Pink Sari Project organisers are conducting research to uncover other reasons stopping Indian and Sri Lankan women from getting tested.

A similar awareness campaign, ‘I Acted Early, I Survived,’ run in 2005 for women from Chinese, Italian, Vietnamese, Arabic and Greek communities found each had their own concerns when it came to getting tested, Helaratne said.

“We went to different states and we found out that they had the same issues as in NSW and Victoria, that the women weren’t booking because they were scared.

“Every community had their issues – they don’t want to talk about breast cancer in the Greek community, they don’t even talk about their breasts, same in the Arabic. In the Chinese, you never say anything about your sickness,” she said.

 

Campaign sees early success in NSW

Meanwhile, the Pink Sari Project appears to be working in NSW.

Early reports from screening clinics show more Indian and Sri Lankan women are getting tested now than before the campaign began, Helaratne said.

She credited Indian and Sri Lankan community leaders and organisations for coming out to support the campaign, particularly Sikh temples, which organised “so many events” last year they at times struggled to keep up.

BreastScreen Australia provides free screening services through clinics across the country for women over 40, with the health department encouraging 50 to 69 year olds to get tested every two years. Screening mammograms are not effective for women younger than 40.

To find the nearest BreastScreen service in your local area, call 13 20 50

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