After rare diagnosis, Pakistani top diplomat becomes voice of male breast cancer awareness

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A rare male breast cancer survivor turned cancer awareness activist, Aizaz Ahmed Chaudhary, receives a shield from CEO Serena hotels Aziz Boolani in recognition of his services on October 13, 2020. (Photo courtesy: Serena Hotel)
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A rare male breast cancer survivor turned cancer awareness activist, Aizaz Ahmed Chaudhary, participates in a special breast cancer awareness talk organized by Raabta in Islamabad on October 13, 2020. (Photo courtesy: Serena hotel)
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Updated 27 October 2020

After rare diagnosis, Pakistani top diplomat becomes voice of male breast cancer awareness

  • Former foreign secretary Aizaz Ahmad Chaudhry was diagnosed with male breast cancer in June 2013 and has survived to tell the tale
  • Breast cancer in males constitutes less than one percent cases globally but in Pakistan the figure is above three percent, experts say

ISLAMABAD: In June 2013, diplomat Aizaz Ahmad Chaudhary was about to address a seminar in Islamabad when he got the call he had been expecting, and dreading, for weeks.

“It’s cancer,” the doctor on the other end of the line told Chaudhary, who was then the spokesperson for the foreign office and went on to become foreign secretary, the senior-most diplomat in Pakistan. 

Chaudhry said he delivered the lecture, as planned, and then went to the hospital to receive an unlikely diagnosis: he had breast cancer, an illness that develops in men in less than one percent of all cases.

According to the Pakistan Medical Association, Pakistan has the highest rate of breast cancer in Asia, with approximately 90,000 new cases diagnosed every year, of which 40,000 people die. One out of every nine women in Pakistan are likely to suffer from the illness, but early diagnosis can push survival rates to 90 percent. 

It is for this reason that Chaudhry, now retired and currently serving as director-general of Islamabad’s prestigious Institute of Strategic Studies (ISSI), has become a voice for breast cancer awareness and the need for its early detection and diagnosis. 

A rare male breast cancer survivor turned cancer awareness activist, Aizaz Ahmed Chaudhary, addresses a news briefing as spokesperson of the foreign ministry in Islamabad on August 20, 2013. (Photo courtesy: Ministry of Foreign Affairs)

“I decided to participate in breast cancer awareness programs as I felt it was my moral duty to tell my fellow citizens that it can be treated and defeated with early detection, courage and determination,” Chaudhry, who served at the foreign office for 37 years, with a final posting as Pakistan’s ambassador to the United States, told Arab News in an interview this week. 

One of his chief concerns is spreading awareness that while breast cancer is more than 100 times more common in women, men can also develop the illness. 

“Anyone can get it and one should not feel shy about it and go for diagnostics if there is any unusual growth,” Chaudhary said, saying the illness was sometimes riskier in men because in the absence of the dense breast tissue that women have, it could quickly spread to the ribs.

Speaking about his journey, the diplomat said he first noticed a small tumor on his left breast in May 2013, which a doctor initially misdiagnosed as an allergy. 

“I went to another doctor who conducted a fine needle test which proved that it was cancer,” Chaudhry said. “This neglect of one month took my cancer from stage one to stage two and had it been a few more months, I may not have survived.”

Chaudhry says he did not take leave throughout this treatment and continued to address press briefings at the foreign office, as its spokesperson. 

He is currently the president of the Patient Welfare Society at the Nuclear Medicine, Oncology and Radiotherapy Institute (NORI), a cancer hospital in the federal capital run by the Pakistan Atomic Energy Commission (PAEC).

 Aizaz Ahmed Chaudhary, then foreign secretary of Pakistan, participates in a breast cancer awareness walk organized by NORI hospital in Islamabad on October 29, 2016. (Photo courtesy: Online photo by S M Sohail)

“Cancer treatment is very expensive, especially medicines for chemotherapy are really costly,” he said. “Our [NORI] society provides free medicines to needy patients and residence and food to their attendants,” he added, saying building more cancer hospitals was an urgent need in Pakistan. 

Dr. Muhammad Faheem, a director at the NORI hospital, said Chaudhary had taken a lead in gathering donations and working to improve facilities at the hospital. 

“If you look into international statistics, breast cancer in males constitutes less than one percent,” Faheem said. “In Pakistan, this percentage is higher, above three percent.”

Pakistan Steel Mills workers say will challenge mass layoffs in court

Updated 29 November 2020

Pakistan Steel Mills workers say will challenge mass layoffs in court

  • PSM management argues the company’s accumulated losses reached Rs212 billion ($1.33 billion) in June
  • The termination of 4,500 contracts is believed to be the biggest layoff from a single entity in Pakistan’s history

KARACHI: Pakistan Steel Mills (PSM) employees are going to challenge in court the company’s recent decision to terminate the contracts of thousands of workers, union representatives said on Sunday.

The management of the state-owned company on Friday handed letters of termination to some 4,500 employees, arguing that PSM’s accumulated losses had reached Rs212 billion ($1.33 billion) in June, when the government decided that 9,350 workers would have to be fired for the dysfunctional enterprise to be revived.
“PSM has terminated 4,500 employees in the first phase of government’s plan to lay off 9,350 employees ... The employees have refused to accept this termination they have registered protests and have decided to challenge this decision in court next week,” Mirza Maqsood, President of Voice of Pakistan Steel Officers Association, told Arab News.

Located 40 kilometers from Karachi, Pakistan’s largest industrial complex with a steel production capacity of 1.1 million tons has been dysfunctional for the past few years. Its operations were suspended in 2015.
“Neither the Company has funds to revive the Mills nor are funds available from any other source to revive the Steel Mill. In any case, revival of the mill would require, firstly massive investment and secondly, entail a period of at least two years,” reads a PSM termination letter seen by Arab News.
The layoff was defended by federal Industries and Production Minister Hammad Azhar, who on Saturday said the terminated employees would be given compensation of Rs2.3 million on average.

“Since the closure of the mill, the government has paid around Rs35 billion as salaries and Rs20 billion as arears to the employees,” he said.

The discharge of workers is said to be one of the biggest layoffs of employees from a single government entity in the country’s history. 
 Karamat Ali, executive director at Pakistan Institute of Labor Education & Research (PILER), said the PSM layoff in unprecedented.
“No such number of employees have ever been fired from a single government institution,” he said.
The decision was also opposed by the provincial government of Sindh, which vowed to support the affected employees. 
“This is wrong and injustice. They (the federal government) must adhere to their earlier stance and commitments of turning the state institutions around with the help of their champions. I am with the employees,” Sindh Labor Minister Saeed Ghani told Arab News.
Mumrez Khan, convener of a representative body of employees, pensioners, suppliers, dealers and contractors of PSM, said that no serious efforts have been made by the federal government to revive the mill, claiming that negligence had caused losses even higher than those cited by PSM management.

“The accumulated losses have swelled to $12 billion on the account of closure of plants, revenue to the government and imports of steel products,” he said.