People were not easy that he, being a man, would diagnose and treat breast cancer. But nothing could take the wind out of his sail. Physician Md Habibullah Talukder Ruskin along with his wife Mosarrat Jahan, his two children and daughter-in-law, has been working raising public awareness about breast cancer for years.
Habibullah Talukder is working as associate professor at the Department of Oncology in the National Institute of Cancer Research and Hospital and the chief of Cancer Epidemiology Department.
He has also been made the chief coordinator of the association of 10 private private organisations for Bangladesh Breast Cancer Awareness Forum. He is one of the founders of the Community Oncology Centre in Lalmatia of the capital. His wife Mosarrat Jahan is the executive director of the centre.
Habibullah Talukder is the pioneer of observing Breast Cancer Awareness Month and Breast Cancer Day in Bangladesh.
In Bangladesh, breast cancer is in the top among the cancer types in women while cervical cancer is the second. Habibullah Talukder is working to raise awareness of the two types of cancer. He began working at the national cancer institute in 1993 and that motivated to work on breast and cervical cancer.
“Being a medical officer in the hospital at the time, I came across a lot of patients with breast cancer. Most of them used to hesitate talking about their disease. It instigated me to work on breast cancer. I began observing Breast Cancer Care Week in 2004 in the country and started working on cervical cancer after two years,” said Habibullah Talukder.
The physician started travelling throughout the country to raise awareness among people from 2007.
“A number of organisations stepped forward to fund various campaigns such as Pink Ribbon Rally and Think Pink,” he elaborated.
Habibullah Talukder said, he did not face any obstacle for working in a non-profit organisation being a government employee. On the contrary, he received assistance from coworkers including the director of the cancer institute.
Speaking of his experience during the campaign, Habibullah Talukder said, “Female students in colleges and universities were very shy of talking about breast cancer in the beginning. Now they open up on their own.”
“Many of them come forward when I say, ‘Do it for your mother.’ I tell them, there is nothing to be ashamed of talking breasts or ovaries. Ovaries are needed for reproduction and bearing children while breasts are for feeding babies,” he added.
Habibullah Talukder had diagnosed his elder sister’s breast cancer after attending a discussion about breast cancer on TV. He said, his sister survived the disease seven years ago as it was dianosed at its primary stage.
According to the physician, women after their 50s suffer from breast cancer in West, while Bangladeshi women are at risk at their age of 35.
“Our health sector lacks the necessary support including counseling for the patient and her family for the removal of the infected organ and to complete the treatment properly,” he added.
Besides awareness, the treatment is improving, according to Habibullah Talukder. He said, the government has recently approved a project for opening a 100-bed cancer treatment centre at every medical college hospital.
He pressed on the need of community participation in the treatment process beside the involvement of the patient’s family. He said, social movement is very necessary for breast cancer awareness and its treatment.
*The piece, originally published in Prothom Alo print edition, has been rewritten in English by Farjana Liakat