Widespread, Yet Completely Preventable: Cervical Cancer in Kibera October 3, 2013  by      

By: Suzanne Thomson, CFK Organizational Consultant

On the homepage of the Prevention International: No Cervical Cancer (PINCC) website you find a statistic in bold type, “Cervical cancer kills 300,000 women worldwide each year, even though it is completely preventable.”  Volunteers from PINCC repeated this statistic when they came to the Tabitha Clinic recently for a week of education and treatment for women, as well as training for community health workers, nurses and others.  I’ve had many conversations about cervical cancer with Adah, a CFK nurse whose passion is encouraging Kiberan women to prioritize prevention of diseases through screenings and thoughtful family planning.  You can see on Adah’s face how difficult the work is when she meets women who have developed the disease, especially knowing what we know now: that it is completely preventable.

Cervical cancer is extremely misunderstood in Kibera. In a survey CFK conducted to find out where the community’s thoughts were on this topic, many women said that they weren’t aware how the disease developed or that it was preventable. Other community members applied the myth they assume about all cancers: that these diseases only affect the rich because of their diet.  Finally, there were some that felt the disease was a curse put on commercial sex workers. Because these myths are so widespread, CFK has been working to change perceptions of the disease and provide life-saving information about prevention and treatment.

To help with this, CFK and PINCC have partnered together for over a year and a half to spread the word among families in Kibera that it is possible to prevent cervical cancer.  Recently, volunteers from PINCC (made up of gynecologists, nurses and administrative support) visited our team at the Tabitha Clinic for the third time to further educate clinic staff and the community and to offer free screenings and treatment of women with precancerous lesions.  The team also trained CFK clinic staff on new methods for treating the early signs of the disease so that the staff at the Tabitha Clinic can continue to offer these services to women in the future.

PINCC’s most recent visit was a valuable learning experience for men, too. Erick Owenga, a representative of community news organization, Kibera Worldwide, wrote about his experience with PINCC, as well as the reactions of the other men present:

“To my surprise, while cervical cancer is a disease that affects women’s bodies, I happened to see many men attend the event as well. Personally, as a man living in Kibera, I felt the issue of cervical cancer is a collective worry that concerns everyone. Francis Odera, who is a Community Health Worker (CHW), talked about cervical cancer being a disaster to everyone, not only to the women, as it can impact everyone in a family if not caught early.  ‘I cannot relax and must reach as many women as I can. The issue of cervical cancer is outrageous and I’m not forgetting that I have sisters, daughters and a wife that I need to remind on the matter.’”

While volunteers were present, the entire ground floor of the Tabitha Clinic was transformed into a reproductive health/treatment area.  Four rooms were converted into screening areas for cervical cancer, with one room set aside for treatment of precancerous lesions.  Women came from all over Kibera for the services, including many Binti Pamoja women and other CFK program participants and family members.  In total 173 women were screened over four days.  Eight women were diagnosed with high-grade pre-cancerous lesions that were immediately managed and removed, so doctors were able to prevent the development of cancer and save the women’s lives.

Having been trained in new methods of prevention, CFK and the staff at the Tabitha Clinic will continue to educate, screen, and treat the women of Kibera so that in the future, no women will have to develop this completely preventable disease.

To read about the partnership with PINCC, check out their blog on their visit: http://pinccorg.blogspot.com/2013/08/day-three-in-kibera-is-wrap.html

Learn more about cervical cancer on the PINCC website:
http://www.pincc.org/cervical-cancer/what-is-cervical-cancer

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