•As with polio eradication efforts, all parties—governments, NGOs, civil society, etc.—must come together.
•Cervical cancer is A leading cause of cancer deaths in Kenya, with an estimated 3,200 deaths in 2020.
My interest in cervical cancer awareness is motivated by the alarming number of cervical cases and subsequent deaths.
The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that cervical cancer is the fourth most common cancer in women around the world, and in 2020, an estimated 600,000 cases were diagnosed, resulting in more than 342,000 deaths.
Cervical cancer is the leading cause of cancer deaths in Kenya, with an estimated 3,200 deaths in 2020.
Yet such deaths can—and should—be prevented.
But all is not lost. In the same way, we have made significant progress in eliminating Polio, there lies some hope in doing the same for cervical cancer.
Just as polio was –and still is — a silent threat that often displays no visible symptoms in many infected people, so too is cervical cancer. Yet, the differences in how these diseases—which each hinge on immunization as a preventative measure—have historically been addressed are stark and worth calling attention to this month’s Cancer Awareness Month.
We urgently need to address the widely circulated cultural stories on HPV vaccination and interrupt the socio-economic inequalities that keep women from accessing this life-saving information and treatment.
Caused by persistent infection from certain strains of the human papillomavirus (HPV) virus (a common virus people pass along to each other through sex), cervical cancer is a preventable disease through HPV immunization, screening, and treatment of precancerous tissue, just as polio is through polio immunization.
If screening catches early evidence of cancerous cells and follow-up care is well managed, cervical cancer can be highly treatable. However, social and economic barriers to cervical cancer immunization, screening, and treatment as well as vaccine hesitancy persist in communities around the globe.
As with polio eradication efforts, all parties—governments, NGOs, civil society, etc.—must come together to reach these benchmarks and help end cervical cancer for good, with each sector playing an important role.
For example, organizations like Rotary International can help to fill the gaps that other entities can’t, as it has done in the global effort to eradicate polio. As Rotarian, we appreciate the key role of connecting leaders across communities to raise awareness, build public support, educate people about the importance of immunization, to training and teach healthcare workers,
Rotary’s global network of community leaders and organizations such as Matibabu, a non-governmental organization led by Matibabu are harnessing its resources and the power of its connections to stop cervical cancer on nearly every continent.
Cervical cancer is a significant public health challenge in the Lake Region Economic Block (LREB), where Matibabu, a non-governmental organization, operates. Despite increasing national and county interest, cultural beliefs, socio-economic disparities, and inadequate policies hinder effective prevention. Matibabu Foundation is working with Rotary International to strengthen synergies in the prevention, treatment, and management of cervical cancer.
The LREB Collaborative tracks each of the county's HPV vaccination, screening, and treatment numbers, but more importantly, they discuss the systemic challenges that keep women from getting support and testing new interventions.
We need to share more widely and intensively the screening and treatment protocols, more aggressive public health campaigns, and rollout of community initiatives to protect our daughters, wives, relatives, friends, and colleagues.
The community engagement has benefited from the awareness creation of the First Ladies, who have hosted events, shared stories, and opened Empowerment Clinics with the Africa Cancer Foundation.
Matibabu recognizes the urgency of addressing these challenges to make a lasting impact on women's health. In the past year, the LREB's collaborative efforts demonstrated success, with eight of Kenya's top 10 performing countries on cervical cancer national targets in the region. Over a million women were vaccinated, screened, or treated in collaboration facilities.
The next steps include expanding cervical cancer awareness outreach, locating funding for additional self-testing equipment and treatment training, and advocating for improved policies to ensure a sustainable impact in the fight against cervical cancer.
For now, we need to heed the call to ensure that every girl ages 10 to 14 gets the HPV vaccine that is free at all government-funded health facilities. In addition, All women aged 25 and above years should be screened for cancer at least every three to five years. If a woman has suspicious results, immediate intervention is needed and would likely result in a complete eradication of cancer.
Boosting public awareness, and access to information and services are key to prevention and control. This can serve as a model and inspiration for African countries to eliminate cervical cancer.
Dan Ogola is a Rotarian and founder/CEO of the Matibabu Foundation in Siaya County.