WASHINGTON – The United States will work with nations in the Middle East to help spread awareness and research about the growing problem of breast cancer in a region where discussing it can be a cultural taboo, first lady Laura Bush said Monday.
The State Department has formed partnerships with the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia to bring the latest information about the disease. Discussions are under way to expand the partnership to Morocco and Jordan, Mrs. Bush said.
"The progress we've made in the United States is exciting, but too many women around the world are still too embarrassed or too uninformed to seek the treatment they need in time to save their lives," Mrs. Bush said at a conference sponsored by the Susan G. Komen Breast Cancer Foundation, a partner in the effort.
There is very limited research or statistics collected on breast cancer in the Middle East, said Erin Walsh, a senior adviser for Near Eastern affairs at the State Department who just returned from a trip to the UAE and Saudi Arabia. But she said anecdotal evidence suggests cases are on the rise in the region and they are being discovered dangerously late because the disease is not widely discussed.
"The taboo is exactly what it was in the United States 25 years ago," Walsh said. "Women have fear of losing their husbands or they may not be accepted in the community."
U.S. officials said that despite tension with the Middle East that has grown since the Sept. 11 attacks and the Iraq war, the devastation brought by the disease brings people together across cultural barriers.
"The pain of losing a loved one to breast cancer — and the joy of seeing a loved one triumph over it — are universal," said Mrs. Bush, whose mother is a survivor of the disease. "By confronting the challenge of breast cancer together, this partnership, which represents the very best kind of public diplomacy, will also help build lasting friendships between our countries. Most important, this partnership will help women throughout the Middle East find hope in a life free from breast cancer."
Other participants in the partnership, which Mrs. Bush called the first major women's health campaign in the Middle East, include Johns Hopkins Medicine in Baltimore and the MD Anderson Cancer Center of Houston.