Dr. Brett Parkinson, a radiologist in charge of Intermountain Medical Center's breast care services, didn't major in math, but he knew these numbers didn't add up:
In the Salt Lake Valley, with a population of 1 million, there are 32 operating mammography machines that can detect breast cancer in its early treatable stages.
In the African nation of Tanzania, with a population of 39 million, there are zero.
Which is why Dr. Parkinson and a team of assembled health-care professionals have elected to spend their summer vacation in Tanzania.
They're leaving today for Dar es Salaam, the Tanzanian capital, where they will set up 11 mammography and ultrasound machines and instruct Tanzanian doctors and technologists how to operate the equipment and organize the country's first early detection program.
"We're not just giving them some machines," Parkinson said. "The idea is to set up a program that they will be able to maintain and operate themselves."
Dr. Parkinson will instruct Tanzanian physicians how to read mammograms, while Dianne Kane of IMC will help with the logistics of setting up an efficient screening and follow-up program. A third member of the team, Shannon McCarrel of Hologic, a women's health-care provider that is donating the mammography machines, will help technologists set up and learn how to read the machines.
Others who are part of what has become known as the East African Breast Care Project include seven Tanzanian doctors, technologists and clerks who have already visited Utah to receive preliminary instruction at the Intermountain Medical Center, executive director Doug Miller of California, and the project's founders, Wil Colom of Mississippi and James Parkinson of California.
The nonprofit, nongovernmental humanitarian project is an energizing example of one good thought leading to another.
It all started when Colom and James Parkinson, who became friends while working together as trial lawyers, visited Tanzania recently looking for business and philanthropic opportunities.
James Parkinson read an article in a Dar es Salaam newspaper about the abject lack of early breast cancer detection in the country ...
... he and Colom decided they wanted to do something about it ...
... they consulted Jim's brother, Brett, who has authored textbooks on mammography and is one of the country's most respected authorities on breast care ...
... Brett Parkinson learned that his employer, IMC, in a nice bit of timing, was about to go digital with its mammography machines and
arranged to have 11 still-serviceable and top-of-the-line analog machines that were being returned to Hologic to be donated by Hologic to the Tanzanian project ...
... IMC additionally donated the services of Dianne Kane and others to train the visiting African doctors ...
... another company, Alliance Imaging, donated the ultrasound machines ...
... and suddenly, almost overnight, a country that gets an estimated 35,000 new cases of cancer every year, including a high incidence of breast cancer, has the chance to start setting up its own early warning system.
"The beauty of what we're doing is that we've cut out the bureaucratic nonsense," James Parkinson said. "Basically, everything's being donated, including people's time. The result is we're getting the equipment there directly and we're getting the people of Tanzania involved on the grass-roots level. These machines won't wind up like exercise equipment in your garage something you end up hanging laundry on because the Tanzanians will understand them and run them themselves. They will have full ownership."
Added IMC's Kane, herself a breast cancer survivor because of early detection, "It's going to be a long future. This is just the beginning. It's really kind of overwhelming to think that we get to be a part of something this elemental and important."
The American set-up team plans to spend 10 days on the ground in Tanzania, primarily in and around the major cities of Dar es Salaam and Arusha. Follow-up instructional visits are planned over the next several months, hopefully with more donated mammography machines.By the time the East African Breast Care Project hits full stride, Tanzania could have as many machines, relatively speaking, that can detect breast cancer in its early stages as its Utah counterpart.
Lee Benson's column runs Sunday, Monday, Wednesday and Friday. Please send e-mail to [email protected] and faxes to 801-237-2527.