All women should have access to breast health services


Every woman has the right to affordable and accessible healthcare – and public-private partnerships can make that possible. The Breast Health Foundation and the Discovery Fund have joined forces to give all women access to quality breast health services.

October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month in South Africa, and an appropriate time to reflect on one of the most common cancers among women in our country.

The World Health Organization found that breast cancer impacts 2.1 million women worldwide every year. It also accounts for a quarter of all cancers in women, according to the latest National Cancer Registry. With the risk of breast cancer as high as 1 in 27 women in South Africa, breast cancer awareness should be echoed in every community.

Every woman has the right to healthcare

“Every woman in South Africa has the right to affordable and accessible healthcare,” says Louise Turner, Chief Operations Officer of the Breast Health Foundation, “and the only way we can do this is through public-private partnerships, or as I like to call it, the four Ps: patient, public-private partnerships.”

The Breast Health Foundation is a non-profit organisation that was established in 2002 to increase awareness about breast cancer and breast health. Besides creating breast health awareness in South African communities, the Breast Health Foundation helps patients navigate their journey with breast cancer from screening and diagnosis to treatment and recovery. Turner, who is a breast cancer survivor herself, says they see the future of healthcare in South Africa in one word: collaboration.

Discovery Fund and Breast Health Foundation join forces

One such collaboration that has already paved the way for accessible healthcare is the partnership between the Breast Health Foundation and the Discovery Fund. “The support that we’ve received from the Discovery Fund has enabled the women we help through the Breast Health Foundation to still provide for their families while receiving treatment,” Turner says.

In 2017, the two organisations first crossed paths. The Discovery Fund put R500 000 towards the Breast Health Foundation’s development of a programme that educates nurses in community health centres about breast health. The Breast Health Foundation realised that going digital would enhance advocacy and spread detection skills far more quickly. So, in October 2018, a training website was launched at Discovery’s headquarters in Sandton. Having trained nurses perform clinical breast exams at local clinics can identify potential breast cancer early on, before patients have symptoms.

Breast Health Foundation extends its reach to Hlokomela

Turner says that they’ve also found that women in smaller, rural communities struggle to get access to the proper facilities for regular screenings or treatments, which are usually in bigger metropolitan areas. In the small community of Hoedspruit in Limpopo, for example, women who may have breast cancer were identified at the local Hlokomela clinic, but had no effective referral pathway.

In 2018, the Discovery Fund, which also supports Hlokomela, donated over R1 million to a grant that lets the Breast Health Foundation facilitate breast cancer referrals from the clinic to the Helen Joseph Hospital in Johannesburg. The Discovery Fund facilitated the relationship between the two organisations, with the broad aim of collaborating and sharing resources across its projects. So far, they have helped 15 women on their breast cancer journey. “The Women’s Clinic is so much more holistic than the plan for it originally was,” says Sonja Botha, a professional nurse who runs the Hlokomela Women’s Clinic. “It has developed into a safe haven for women.”

Discovery prioritises child and maternal healthcare

Since 2010, Discovery has been supporting Hlokomela’s efforts to treat and prevent HIV among farmworkers – a vision that aligns directly with the third UN sustainable development goal of making people healthy and promoting wellbeing at all ages. The Hlokomela Women’s Clinic takes this vision further and aims to improve the health of women by giving them access to critical healthcare services such as Pap smears, mammograms and breast health services.

Ruth Lewin, Head of Corporate Sustainability at Discovery, says, “Economists over decades identified the importance of addressing the socio-economic potential of women to guarantee the success of society as a whole. So,when women have access to material resources and healthcare for themselves and their children, it has socio-economic benefits to society as a whole. To this end, the Discovery Fund has prioritised the child and maternal healthcare services to guarantee the sustainability of the full healthcare ecosystem.”

Coming soon – chemo treatment centre at Tintswalo Hospital

While the COVID-19 pandemic has paused a few of their future plans, the Discovery Fund and the Breast Health Foundation look forward to an ongoing partnership. This year, R1.5 million was allocated towards setting up a chemotherapy treatment centre at Tintswalo Hospital in Mpumalanga, a first facility like this for the women of this area. Turner says she looks forward to seeing it take flight in the near future and proactively contributing towards prevention and early detection of breast cancer. Watch this space.

This story was produced by BrandStudio24.

About the Discovery Foundation

Since 2006, the Discovery Foundation has invested over R256 million in grants to support academic medicine through research, development and training medical specialists in South Africa.

The Discovery Foundation is an independent trust with a clear focus – to strengthen the healthcare system – by making sure that more people have access to specialised healthcare services. Each year, the Discovery Foundation gives five different awards to outstanding individual and institutional awardees in the public healthcare sector.

Learn more about the Discovery Foundation Awards

Related articles

Hlokomela Women’s Clinic – a safe haven for women

Where do rural women go when they need a pap smear, a mammogram, or suspect they may have breast cancer? In the town of Hoedspruit in Limpopo, they go to the Hlokomela Women’s Clinic, where professional nurse Sonja Botha welcomes them with open arms.


Discovery underpins transformative KZN wellspring initiative

In March 2019 Discovery hosted a conference aimed at encouraging fellow corporates to join in pooling resources for social impact. In this series, we look at the transformation that occurs when companies and organisations become partners for social good.


Hlokomela: a case study in partnership excellence

The Hlokomela programme, built around the passion of Christine du Preez, a nursing sister married to a Limpopo fruit farmer, is an impressive demonstration of the power of strategic partnerships for social good.

Log in

Please click here to login into Discovery Digital Id

Please click here to login into Discovery Digital Id