One Woman Saves Many Women: Spreading the Word About Cervical Cancer Screening in Kibera September 30, 2014 by Nick Johnson
By: Mark Muasa, Head of CFK Health Services Department
Cancer doesn’t discriminate, and Joyce knows it. Ever since she discovered in February that she was at risk for developing cervical cancer because of a precancerous lesion on her cervix, Joyce has been telling her female friends, neighbors, and clients of her salon to get screened the first chance they get. She knows that encouraging them to do so can save their lives.
Cervical cancer kills hundreds of thousands of women each year, even though it is preventable if caught early. In many parts of Kenya, women have a tremendous, unmet need for access to cervical cancer screening and treatment. And in low-income areas like Kibera, it’s even worse. To help meet this need in Kibera, CFK partners with Prevention International: No Cervical Cancer (PINCC), who train Tabitha Medical Clinic staff every year on the procedures needed to eradicate early signs of cervical cancer. Since December 2012, staff members at the Tabitha Medical Clinic have conducted several free screening events resulting in 369 women being screened and 79 being treated.
When Joyce visited the Tabitha Medical Clinic for the first time last February, she went to seek help for something completely different. The clinic staff encouraged her to also get screened since the procedure is quick, painless, and free. Much to her surprise, clinicians found a precancerous lesion on her cervix, which they immediately treated. Joyce has since made a full recovery and is cancer-free.
When we followed up with her, she explained that she had heard about cervical cancer, but never realized that she might have the disease. “If my symptoms were not detected early, I would be at risk,” she explained. “Now, when I meet other women, I encourage them to be screened for cervical cancer.”
In Kibera, the most difficult aspect of prevention is spreading the word—but Joyce and women like her are working together. At the salon she runs, Joyce regularly speaks to her female customers about getting screened, and she will often accompany them to the Tabitha Medical Clinic. Her courage has had an impact: more than 30 women among many she has spoken to have been tested. At least 9 of them have turned out to be positive, and many more are now going for check-ups. Joyce is happy to be helping others. “I don’t want anyone to die when there is an opportunity for us to live longer,” she says.
Joyce’s story shows how critical it is for women to be screened for cervical cancer, even if they are not experiencing symptoms. Even more importantly, it shows that the efforts of community volunteers to spread the word about screening services can save the lives of thousands of women each year.