SHARJAH, 23rd February, 2019 (WAM) -- In the presence of H.H. Dr. Sheikh Sultan bin Muhammad Al Qasimi, Supreme Council Member and Ruler of Sharjah, and H.H. Sheikha Jawaher bint Mohammed Al Qasimi, Wife of the Ruler of Sharjah, Founder and Royal Patron of the Friends Of Cancer Patients,FOCP, the Pink Caravan Ride,PCR, breast cancer awareness campaign by FOCP set off on its ninth edition on Saturday in Sharjah.
The seven-day journey has been undertaken by 150+ equines, along with medical and community volunteers, who will be charting 154 kilometres across the seven emirates to heighten community’s awareness about the importance of regular screenings and early detection in successfully tackling the disease.
The Sharjah Ruler and his wife, Sheikha Jawaher Al Qasimi signaled the start of the ride at the Sharjah Equestrian and Racing Club, where the opening ceremony was hosted.
In his inaugural speech, Sheikh Dr. Sultan Al Qasimi said: "Nine years have passed with people exerting their efforts to spread breast cancer awareness in the UAE. Many people’s lives have been saved due to these efforts. Today, all you brilliant rays of hope have come together, one again, to ensure this march continues to safeguard the health and well-being of our community.
"Cancer is a dangerous disease and, this year with genetic testing, Pink Caravan Ride is taking another step forward to make cancer treatment more effective. This is a huge milestone for our soldiers of pink hope. May god bless you all as you turn another leaf in your journey in safeguarding the future of our beloved nation."
Sheikha Jawaher Al Qasimi took the podium to congratulate the volunteers and participants of PCR 2019, noting: "I am pleased to witness the launch of the ninth Pink Caravan Ride. This initiative was launched by the Sharjah Ruler as a gift to the Emirati nationals and larger UAE community. It is difficult to surmise in a few words the essence of this nine-year journey that is driven by the collective passion to further human well-being and preservation. It is an example of the selfless efforts of thousands of socially driven individuals who aim to build an aware and cancer-free society, and ensure no one is left suffering.
Reem BinKaram, Head of PCR’s Higher Steering Committee, commended Sheikh Dr. Sultan Al Qasimi’s humanitarian approach, saying: the Ruler of Sharjah has taught us that humans are the strongest pillar of civilisation, and knowledge builds us humans. Also, he says that humanity attains true meaning in its vigorous practice of the value of giving, and we are all gathered today to launch the ninth edition of PCR to take this vision forward.
She added: "This ride started with the aim of not just offering free check-ups, but to build people’s knowledge. When we have knowledge, we can use it ensure our safety and well-being. Staring from Sharjah, PCR’s journey will map the seven emirates spreading awareness and offering free checkups to the UAE community under the directives of Her Highness Sheikha Jawaher, following which have reached out to more than 56,000 UAE citizens and residents this far. Thank you to all the brave volunteers, our sponsors and patrons, media personnel, and community members who have ensured the continuity of our efforts in spreading knowledge and hope in the UAE."
Sawsan Jafar, Chairperson of FOCP’s Board of Directors, highlighted the important role the cancer non-profit has played in mobilising collective efforts in cancer prevention and control in the past 20 years, saying: "This edition of PCR coincides with the 20th anniversary of FOCP, which was established to promote a culture of awareness and enhance community’s access to cancer treatment. FOCP has offered free cancer treatment to more than 5,000 patients and raised awareness at the local, regional and global levels.
"Dear audience, PCR is a model of human development for the world. Our story is much more than offering free checks and breast screenings. It is a story of unsung heroes – individuals and establishments – who have come together to solidify the UAE’s humanitarian image in the world."
Part of the opening ceremony was a panel discussion titled, Breast Cancer Control: Why Civil Society Mobilisation Matters, organised by PCR’s Higher Organising Committee organised. Moderated by Dr Sawsan Al Madhi, Director General of FOCP and Head of the PCR Medical and Awareness Committee, the panel brought together Dr. Hussein Abdel Rahman Al Rand, Assistant Undersecretary, Ministry of Health and Prevention and the leader of the Higher National Committee on Immunisation, UAE; Dr. Ibtihal Fadhil, Chair, Eastern Mediterranean NCD Alliance, UAE; Thafera Al-Shawi Liaison and Partnership Officer- UAE, United Nations Population Fund, UNFPA; and Nawal Mohammed, a UAE resident and breast cancer survivor who was diagnosed by PCR 2011.
Speakers brought together unique perspectives on the need for stronger activation of the role of community and developing an inclusive societal movement by engaging health stakeholders, including patients, non-government organisations, academia, health experts, decision makers, media outlets and private organisations, in developing breast cancer control strategies.
Dr. Hussein Al Rand, emphasised: "Cancer affects not just the person who is diagnosed the disease but overcomes the entire family. Thus, civil society mobilisation is a must because awareness wins half the battle."
Dr. Ibtihal Fadhil, added: "Cancer is a growing concern, especially for the UAE. It is one of the top priorities on our national agenda. The objective is to prevent the disease as well as offer more early detection services. That is priority, but the healthcare systems can’t attain this objective unless every stakeholder join hands, including civil society. Awareness is the starting point; and that is why PCR’s journey is exceptional in this regard. There is a big knowledge gap when it comes to conducting research and implementing targeted health policies. PCR is filling this gap by creating awareness and increasing knowledge of all stakeholders."
Thafera Al-Shawi noted that the importance of early detection in treating cancers successfully, especially breast cancer, cannot be overstated. "Social circumstances, level of education, financial impediments, etcetera make it difficult for women and girls to empower themselves with the right kind of knowledge and access to early detection services. These realities have changed tremendously for the better for women in the UAE, but we must focus more on comprehensive and integrated programmes to enhance the culture of healthcare in this country. This is where the role of international organisations like UNFPA come in."
Bringing a civil society perspective to the discussions, Nawal, the first person diagnosed with breast cancer by the inaugural edition of PCR in 2011, reflected: "I was operated in December 2011 and underwent treatment, all with the support of PCR and FOCP. I have been cancer-free for the past seven years. Not just me, several other patients have been brought to health by this life-saving campaign and words cannot express the gratitude we feel for such national initiatives that focus on people’s welfare."
To wrap up the opening ceremony, the master of ceremonies, Hassan Yacoub Al Mansouri, Secretary General, Sharjah Media Council, reminded the audience about pledging their support to the #PinkCaravanPledge campaign titled ‘I Pledge’, which was launched in the run up to the ninth edition to encourage community members partake in the campaign and spread awareness. Numerous social media influencers and local as well as regional celebrities have taken the campaign to millions of their followers locally and around the world by taking the ‘I Pledge’.
At the end of the ceremony, the pink brigade set off on its journey towards the day’s first stop – Coral Beach Resort. The ride trotted along the Coral Beach Resort and Souq Al Jubail, before warping up their first day at Al Majaz Waterfront at 55:15pm, traveling 37 kilometres.
A series of family-centric edutainment events and activities were organised at the last stop in sponsorship with Fast Contracting and Building.
On Sunday, March 24, the ride will set off from Ajman Municipality at 9:30am, marching through Ajman Marina and other areas to finally end its second day of campaigning at the Khalifa Hospital at 2pm, tracking 15.8 kilometres. A host of awareness events will be organised at the Ajman Corniche from 2-8pm.
Three clinics in Ajman will be available at the Ajman University, Ajman Specialty General Hospital, and Al Hamedia Health Centre, which will be offering free checkups and screenings only to women. A fourth clinic in Al MAdina Health Centre will receive both men and women.
The fixed clinic will be set up at Ajman Corniche, and deliver free consultations and screenings every day, 4-10pm, until 2 March.
Medical clinics will operate daily from 10am to 6pm throughout the seven-day ride, which include 30 mobile medical clinics and seven fixed clinics (one in each emirate), and the PCR mobile clinic that will be on the ride’s equine route. These clinics will offer free check-ups and screenings to all segments of the community throughout the duration of the campaign.
Over the past eight years, the PCR has made landmark achievements, foremost of which offering free early-detection examinations to more than 56,000 people and diagnosed 61 cases, all of whom have been offered free treatment by FOCP.