Baheya women's hospital is the first of its kind in Egypt, not only working to raise awareness of the disease but also offering free treatment and services.
by Farah El Akkad
Baheya Foundation, a women’s hospital launched earlier last year, is considered one of the biggest, if not the only, hospital in Egypt helping women detect and treat breast cancer. Most importantly, the services are free.
The hospital takes its name from Baheya Othman, who was diagnosed with breast cancer in her older years. Othman courageously battled the disease for many years and during the course of her fight came to realize just how difficult it is getting proper treatment in Egypt — particularly for women who cannot afford the exorbitant expenses.
When Othman passed away, her family chose to turn her house into a hospital, in order to help women suffering from cancer. In particular it is meant as a lifeline for women of limited means and who cannot pay for treatment.
Today Baheya Women’s Hospital, on the site of Othman’s house located in El Haram district, offers all our services for free to all segments of the society, no matter what their social status, religion or ethnicity, says says Dina El-Oreiby, Baheya Foundation marketing director. Hospital services include everything from walk-in early detection screening to advanced therapy and treatment for cancer patients. It is also the first hospital to offer a comprehensive program to help patients deal emotionally with their illness and can arrange to make home visit for those who cannot attend in clinic. “Since we started in February 2015, Baheya has successfully done early detection tests on 14,000 ladies; 1,200 of those have received chemotherapy and the hospital has performed 1,275 surgeries,” says El-Oreiby.
Emotional resilience plays a huge role in battling cancer, especially as intensive cancer treatment like radio and chemotherapy do take a devastating physical and emotional toll on patients. Staunch believers that “Optimism is half of the treatment,” as they say on their homepage, Baheya Hospital launched an initiative with L’Oreal Paris to encourage women to donate some of their hair to be made into wigs that can help cancer patients feel less conscious after treatment.
The face of the campaign, called “Just a Haircut,” which called on women to give just 20 cm of their hair and send it in to the hospital, was actress and social activist, actress Mona Zaki. “Personally, I always like to help in anything related to health and society, not just cancer related,” says Zaki. “If time permits, I would never say no to anything like that,” explaining that she jumped at the chance to take part in the campaign.
“After hearing the story of the honorable lady who passed away and left her house to become the hospital we see today, I was equally touched and excited to work on the campaign,” says Zaki, who cuts off part of her own hair as “a small contribution” to women who suffer from cancer. “L’Oreal Paris have this concept abroad, they encourage people whenever they want to cut their hair, to donate it to cancer patients who need to wear wigs. It is more like a product thing that raises awareness and makes one more cooperative on a human level.”
Zaki, whose popular films and serials often center around women’s issues, is happy an institution like Baheya Hospital is working on the early detection of breast cancer and is raising awareness of how to maintain a healthy lifestyle. “I advise all women and particularly women after a certain age to go for regular checkups. Routine checkups are very important. Eating healthy, taking care of what one eats. Reading a lot about food and health because I think it does help if you have awareness about health or any issue one might face.”
Baheya understands that in Egypt, women always put their home and family before their own health, and is trying to change this attitude by pushing the concept that women need to be healthy in order to take care of their families. Her advice to all women is: “Don’t wait to the last moment, do early checkups starting at the age of 30. Eat healthy balanced meals and walk or do sports for 20 minutes at least four times a week.”
Zaki has set a good example, and her video, which can be seen on the Baheya Foundation Facebook page, has been viewed close to 2 million times — a great promotion of the hospital’s cause.
“Since the campaign, I feel there is an obvious development,” Zaki says proudly. “They have more patients now, more people know about them. They have a big waiting list that I hope they have the chance to grow and be able to accept more people and reach all women in need. I am very happy that I help even in a small way. I try to be there for Baheya whenever they need me. I really hope I can continue to support the foundation in any way possible.”
Raising both awareness and donations has not been an easy feat says El-Oreiby, but the progress has been very promising. “Baheya’s success is built on the shoulders of every person, corporations and public institutions. We would not be able to continue its success without the consolidation of all the community … through donations, sponsorships and word of mouth.”
At present, Baheya Foundation is working on the launch of a new radiotherapy department equipped with two True Beam radiotherapy machines, says El-Oreiby, adding that the equipment features cutting edge technology that is not available elsewhere in Egypt.
The task at hand, El-Oreiby says, is to cover costs of the Baheya premises, mainly the surgeries, through donations and the support of the community. "We also need to cover the ever-increasing running costs of medications that cost Baheya LE 3 million a month," she says. "Looking ahead, we also plan to increase the number of the early detection units at Baheya.”
This article originally appeared in the June issue of Egypt Today.