Raising Breast Cancer Awareness Among Disadvantaged Women in Iraq: Dr. Mawadah Arif Hammadi


23 May 2024, Hiroshima, Japan – In the heart of Baghdad Medical City is a woman dedicated to improving Iraqi health care: Dr. Mawadah Arif Hammadi. As a junior resident physician, Mawadah works in the emergency room, where she cares for the many frightened people who come through the door. Doing what she can to ensure that every Iraqi person gets accessible, quality health care, Mawadah is developing a project to raise breast cancer awareness among Iraqi women.

Getting Women to Detect Breast Cancer Early

Dr. MAWADAH ARIF HAMMADI watching exhibition.

Navigating the healthcare landscape in Iraq is packed with challenges. The country is still rebuilding from decades of conflict and its infrastructure needs urgent upgrading. Medical staff and supplies are chronically in shortage and, amidst the weakened healthcare system, non-communicable diseases are the leading cause of morbidity and death. Mawadah says that breast cancer rates have gone up, especially in northern Iraq.

Many women don’t know that they have cancer until it reaches the late stages, [where the cancer has] spread to the liver, to the bones, to the brain,” says Mawadah. “Because of low education and because of shame, too, when [the women] develop those symptoms, they don’t seek medical advice.”-Dr. Mawadah Arif Hammadi (Iraq), UNITAR alumna

Because early detection can significantly improve survival rates, Mawadah wants to raise breast cancer awareness, especially among women who have low social status and little education. She came up with the idea to mobilize medical students to go into the communities and homes to teach women about breast cancer, symptoms to watch out for and how to do self-exams and get them into the healthcare system when necessary.


Dr. MAWADAH ARIF HAMMADI discussing with her fellow participant.

The UNITAR programme Great Ideas Space 2023: Entrepreneurship and Innovation: Promoting Health Security and Economic Development in Iraq, Jordan and Lebanon gave Mawadah the tools to turn her idea into a reality. The programme, supported by the Government of Japan, aimed to train entrepreneurs from the three countries so they can bring to life innovative, local solutions for health security and economic development. Beginning in July 2023, Mawadah joined 200 learners in the programme to complete online courses, discussions and assignments. She was invited to Japan for the final in-person stage in February 2024, along with 14 other top learners.

The entrepreneurship training was an entirely new experience for Mawadah – a sharp contrast with her traditional medical education. “It was my first encounter with entrepreneurship,” she says. She credits the initial self-paced online learning for teaching her new concepts “from zero.”

Building on that theoretical knowledge, Mawadah worked on developing practical skills, especially in the in-person workshop in Japan, and created a plan for her project. She’s grateful to UNITAR and Japan for bringing her together with others like her – especially from developing countries that experienced wars – and expects the network will help her on her journey.

To make sure her project is sustainable, Mawadah is exploring how she can involve small local businesses, as well as collaborate with NGOs and other organizations. She has no plans to rush matters, however.

I don’t want to hurry and mess it up. Many startups fail, they don’t last more than 500 days. So I need to start slow, with a solid foundation.”-Dr. Mawadah Arif Hammadi (Iraq), UNITAR alumna


Participants and resource people of the GIS programme.

Among her experiences in Japan, the visit to the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park stands out in Mawadah’s memory. She recounts how families could only infer that a loved one had been killed by the atomic bomb by objects they found in the rubble, like a watch, a teapot, or a shadow.

It reminds her that life is a constant development. She calls on other entrepreneurs who want to make a social impact to keep learning and evolving, even into new fields.

You will never know your potential, even [if] it has nothing to do with your profession or your background education. … Believe in yourself, and get out of your comfort zone. Meet new people and get inspired.” -Dr. Mawadah Arif Hammadi (Iraq), UNITAR alumna

She aspires to demonstrate the values of lifelong education and community service. “I want to be the best physician in my country, and I want to give back to my community.”

United Nations Online Volunteer Saravanan Thangarajan contributed to this article.


The United Nations Institute for Training and Research (UNITAR) is a dedicated training arm of the United Nations. In 2022, UNITAR trained over 395,000 learners around the world to support their actions for a better future. UNITAR has a global presence, with offices in Geneva, Hiroshima, New York and Bonn and networks around the world.

UNITAR Division for Prosperity offers world-class learning and knowledge-sharing services to present and future change-makers from around the world. Through our innovative training and learning opportunities – built on robust adult learning principles – we seek to promote sustainable, inclusive and just economic development and catalyse the creation of decent employment opportunities for all.

UNITAR Division for Prosperity supports youth and women in particular to address growing inequalities. We work in solidarity with diverse partners at the local, regional and global levels to propel the 2030 Agenda and Sustainable Development Goals and achieve an inclusive, sustainable and prosperous world.

/Public Release. View in full here.