Three facts many people don’t know:
- Cervical cancer is one of the leading causes of cancer deaths for women globally
- Eighty-five percent of these deaths occur in developing countries
- Cervical cancer is one of the easiest cancers to detect and treat
Cervical cancer is a highly preventable disease. But in developing countries such as Tanzania -- where the Jane Goodall Institute works to promote conservation and sustainable development -- it is stealing the lives of women in their prime.
According to the World Health Organization (WHO), cervical cancer kills more than 6,000 women in Tanzania each year.
It is the most common cancer among women in the East African country -- 2.5 times more prevalent than it is worldwide. (Its incidence rate is 41
, compared to a global rate of 16. The next most-frequent cancer among Tanzanian women, breast cancer, has an incidence rate of 12.)
Why the disparity? It’s largely due to a simple lack of access to early detection and treatment services.
To help close this health-care gap in the Kigoma region of Tanzania (site of Jane Goodall’s groundbreaking chimpanzee behavioral research), JGI works with Grounds for Health
, a nonprofit that employs a research-driven, effective and efficient medical model called “The Single Visit Approach” to bring cervical cancer screening and treatment to women in resource-poor parts of the world.
Reducing the burden
This “Single Visit Approach” model, endorsed by the World Health Organization, combines screening and treatment in one visit. Thereby reducing the barriers many women in the developing world face when seeking health care, including: lack of means to travel to distant health clinics, child-care needs and precious hours away from essential daily work.
The Single Visit Approach combines “Visual Inspection” (screening) with cryotherapy (treatment). Using simple vinegar, cotton swabs and a good light, clinicians are able to detect pre-cancerous cell changes. The majority of women who receive a positive result can be treated with simple cryotherapy (which freezes the surface tissue) the same day. The advantages of the Single Visit Approach are that it requires few resources, uses low-tech equipment and provides immediate results.
What is JGI’s role? We tap into the JGI-facilitated network of village-based Community Based Distribution Agents
(CBDAs), whom we have trained for more than a decade to educate community members about health issues and provide access to family planning methods. For this project, we worked with Grounds for Health to train the CBDAs in the facts about cervical cancer. They then spread the word in their communities, sensitizing their neighbors about this important issue. They also recruit at-risk women to receive screening services at health centers where doctors and nurses have been trained by Grounds for Health.
JGI continues to collaborate with this rich network of community health providers, supporting and supervising them in their community work, conducting classes in Swahili as needed, and helping facilitate communications between Grounds for Health and Tanzanian partners in Kigoma and the capital, Dar-es-Salaam.
According to August Burns, executive director of Grounds for Health: “Bringing these two organizations together has been incredibly powerful. JGI’s presence as a respected and trusted organization provides the bridge to the communities and local health authorities. Collaborating with JGI made it so much easier to rapidly develop and implement our program. It gave us the fast track to success.”
The other founding partner in our Kigoma cervical cancer prevention program is the Kanyovu Coffee Cooperative
. Kanyovu represents nearly 5,000 Tanzanian farmers who cultivate coffee in a region that borders the Gombe National Park. Grounds for Health, which was founded by a member of the specialty coffee industry who saw the need for better health care for women in coffee-producing regions, focuses its work in coffee- growing communities. At each of its sites, they partner directly with coffee cooperatives to accomplish their cervical cancer prevention programs. The coffee cooperatives provide the strong network that provides community health education and transportation for women to the screening services at the health clinics.
The cervical cancer screening and treatment project in Kigoma, launched in June 2009, has already saved lives and won recognition.
- More than 1,500 women have been screened, and of the women who tested positive, more than 90 % percent have received treatment.
- 10 doctors have been trained and now perform screenings in 7 health clinics, and 2 regional centers for cryotherapy have been established. This training of local health care providers creates the potential for thousands of women to receive life-saving care.
- The Tanzanian Ministry of Health has named the Kigoma project one of 5 national demonstration projects, recognizing our project as a unique collaboration that has the potential to impact the burden of cervical cancer in the country
We have a new partner in our work in Kigoma -- the International Center for AIDS Care and Treatment Programs
(ICAP). This month, Grounds for Health will train 10 additional doctors and nurses in Kigoma in the Single Visit Approach. With the support of ICAP, 4 additional centers of cryotherapy will be established. ICAP oversees HIV prevention and care in the Kigoma region and is eager to scale up the training of doctors and nurses and integrate cervical cancer screening into its services. The vision is that cervical cancer screening services be available in all 123 community clinics in Kigoma.
“As a result of this project, women in Kigoma District can now be screened and treated. The initial screening and training in June 2009 had 300 women and soon thousands of women will be reached in Kigoma District,” says Alice Macharia, JGI’s director for East Africa programs. “The high rate of cervical cancer in developing countries like Tanzania is a problem with a ready solution -- and we want to facilitate access to its solution as much as we possibly can. This is an exciting and successful partnership.”
Photos above: Courtesy Grounds for Health