Globally, breast cancer is the most widespread cancer disease among women. However, there is a very good chance of recovery if detected early. Nevertheless, access to organized breast cancer screening is limited, particularly in rural areas of developing and emerging countries. Knowledge about breast health is usually limited and often fraught with emotions such as fear or shame.
At the same time, worldwide, visually impaired people (especially women) have massive problems finding a job. 87% of 45 million blind people worldwide come from developing countries, are disproportionately affected by poverty and face severe forms of social exclusion every day.
This is where discovering hands comes in – and provides a sustainable solution for two important social challenges. Jobs for blind and visually impaired women are created and at the same time the breast health of all women is promoted.
Against this background, Dr. Luis Olave, general surgeon and medical director of the discovering hands pilot project in Colombia, and Dr. Enrique Martin del Campo, surgical oncologist and medical facilitator of a discovering hands efficacy study in Mexico, told us more about why an initiative like discovering hands is desperately needed in Latin America and what the current state of implementing discovering hands in Colombia and Mexico is.
discovering hands Österreich:Who are you and what is your role within discovering hands in Latin America?
Dr. Luis Olave: discovering hands was brought to Colombia in 2015. Since then I am the medical director of the pilot project Manos Que Salvan Vidas in Cali, a 2.4 million town in Valle del Cauca. As part of that, I was responsible for the selection and training of our Medical-Tactile Examiners (MTEs). And, still I am working closely with some of the seven trained MTEs in Colombia.
Dr. Enrique Martin del Campo: Over five years ago on the occasion of pink October, the breast health months, I heard about discovering hands for the first time. I immediately contacted Dr. Frank Hoffmann, the founder of discovering hands. Not much later, we started a study project in Mexico, in cooperation with Manos Que Salvan Vidasin Colombia and sponsored by the Latin American Development Bank.
discovering hands Österreich: What is the status quo of discovering hands in Colombia and Mexico?
Dr. Luis Olave: In Colombia, the aim of the pilot project was to successfully facilitate an efficacy study. Meanwhile, the results of our study have been published and the pilot project was completed. So far so good, but still we are currently facing a big challenge. Like in Austria, in Colombia too it is required to achieve the legal recognition of the profession of the Medical-Tactile Examiners. Only then we can start thinking about next steps towards a nationwide integration of the discovering hands method into the Colombian breast cancer early detection system.
Dr. Enrique Martin del Campo: Just like in Colombia we have been able to facilitate a pilot study, with over 1000 patients being examined by only one MTE in Mexico. The results should be published within the next couple of weeks. After the efficacy study is completed our aim is to find a way to continue providing our MTE a sustainable workplace and of course to spread the idea of discovering hands to other parts of Mexico as well.
discovering hands Österreich: As medical experts, why do you think an initiative like discovering hands is needed in your home countries?
Dr. Luis Olave: Access to breast cancer early detection programs in Colombia is very rare. For many women, especially in rural areas, the only possibility for breast cancer prevention is the clinical breast examination. They do not have any access to mammography or ultrasound. But the problem is, there is no standardized and quality-assured method for the clinical breast examination implemented yet. discovering hands could provide a solution by establishing the clinical breast examination as a serious complementary method of fighting breast cancer.
Dr. Enrique Martin del Campo: In Mexico, we neither have a standardized method for the breast clinical examinations nor the human resources to carry them out on a regular basis. High numbers of late diagnosis show clearly: our standard of care being mammography and ultrasound is not enough. We are convinced that we should use all weapons we have to fight breast cancer – with the standardized clinical breast examination discovering hands provides an additional one, which is great and needed.
discovering hands Österreich: From a personal point of view, what motivates you to support discovering hands?
Dr. Luis Olave: Time pressure and technology widen the distance between patients and doctors every day. The MTE, however, has the capacity to take her time for the patients, to listen and to explain relevant breast health related topics properly. Patients gain trust and valuable information; they start to communicate and asks questions they most certainly would not ask a doctor. And most importantly, discovering hands increases awareness about breast cancer early detection.
Dr. Enrique Martin del Campo: Today we broadly rely on dehumanized medicine. We tend to be faster and we tend to rely on technology. That is how we achieve better and more precise results and diagnosis. However, through all that something important gets lost, something MTEs could bring back. From my experience, working with blind or visually impaired women creates a different kind of atmosphere during medical consultations. The stress level and fear of breast cancer early examinations are reduced detection and at the same time medical processes become more pleasant, friendly or in other words, more human.
discovering hands Österreich: What was your most special discovering hands moment?
Dr. Luis Olave: Two years ago, I was presenting our pilot project and introducing our MTEs at a breast cancer congress for medical professionals in Cali. The MTEs had the chance to tell about their work and the discovering hands method. We also showed a video with feedback from patients. The reaction of the audience was overwhelming. Our MTEs received minutes of applause and standing ovations. It was beautiful and moving.
Dr. Enrique Martin del Campo: I remember attending the MTE certification ceremony in Cali. It was very emotional. There were tears of joy. For those blind and visually impaired women receiving the discovering hands certificate opened a new door, a new perspective. Being stigmatizes as non-productive and written of as a burden to society, they could use their potential to actually save lives and contribute significantly to women’s health from now on. To see and feel that was beautiful and moving – especially when you know how hard they worked to complete the training.
discovering hands Österreich: What is your wish for the future of discovering hands?
Dr. Luis Olave: I am wishing for a global implementation of the discovering hands method – for the sake of all blind and visually impaired women and all women at risk of breast cancer worldwide.
Dr. Enrique Martin del Campo: I wish to find a way to employ our Mexican MTE at my private practice to set an example for other doctors and clinics. Maybe – and I am thinking big here – my city could become the centre of MTE trainings and spread the method nationwide and to different areas of our medical system.
discovering hands Österreich: Many thanks for your time and the open discussion.
Interview conducted by Helena Gabriel