A Ray of Hope in Nigeria: Turning the Tide on Cervical Cancer

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A Ray of Hope in Nigeria: Turning the Tide on Cervical Cancer

 

By Usman Aliyu

 

In Uyo, Akwa Ibom, Nigeria, a personal tragedy sparked a life-saving movement. Itoro Usoro, a young Nigerian, lost his mother to cervical cancer, prompting him to lead the “Help The Women Campaign”, a crusade to raise awareness and facilitate screening for women.

 

Since its inception in 2021, the campaign initiative has reached an impressive 30,000 women, both online and offline, and screened 500 women, potentially saving countless lives.

 

The campaign’s impact extends beyond local boundaries as the initiative in its tireless efforts joined a successful advocacy that convinced the Federal Government to incorporate into the national immunisation programme the HPV vaccine, to build the immunity of women against the disease.

 

This milestone ensures that thousands of girls and women will be protected from the devastating effects of cervical cancer.

 

Beneficiaries’ accounts

 

Ndifreke Godwin, a 24-year-old Public Health student at the University of Calabar, was once in the dark about cervical cancer, but her encounter with the Help The Women Campaign changed everything.

 

Through the initiative, she discovered the deadly nature of the disease and received free screening and education on preventive measures.

 

“I became aware of the activities of Help The Women Campaign through its Facebook page. The founder usually shares videos, where he creates awareness about the cancer.

 

“In one of the videos, he talked about screening. I knew cervical cancer as a Public Health student, but didn’t not how deadly it could be.

 

“Itoro (Usoro) talked about the need for regular screenings and shared the location for the exercise. We were screened in 2022 free of charge and the result was okay.

 

“For those who had issues, they returned for further engagement. As for me, the result was okay,” said Ndifreke.

 

Ndifreke’s story is a testament to the power of awareness and early detection in the fight against cervical cancer.

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According to medical experts, cervical cancer can be cured only if it is diagnosed at an early stage and treated promptly.

 

Corroborating the benefits of these anti-cervical cancer efforts, Mrs Glory Udoffia, 51, said she enjoyed, for free, a test that could have cost her N20,000 at a public hospital.

 

“It was the first time I would learn about cervical cancer. It did not stop at the awareness, I was also screened in Uyo alongside several others. I learnt about other preventive measures I can take against the disease.

 

“I learnt those who go to public hospitals for the screening, pay between N15,000 to N20,000,” said the middle-aged woman.

 

The two accounts were further buttressed by Esther Jumbo and Maria Fabian, who were also touched by the impact of the campaign.

 

Cervical cancer, Human Papillomavirus Infectious

 

By records, cervical cancer is the fourth most common cancer in women globally, with around 660,000 new cases and around 350,000 deaths in 2022.

 

The highest rates of cervical cancer incidence and mortality are in low- and middle-income countries, including Nigeria.

 

Cervical cancer, according to studies, is caused by persistent infection with the human papillomavirus (HPV); and women living with HIV are 6 times more likely to develop cervical cancer compared to women without HIV.

 

In Nigeria, cervical cancer is the second most common cancer affecting women as well as the second most frequent cancer death among women between 15 and 44 years of age

 

In 2020, Nigeria recorded 12,000 new cases and 8,000 deaths from this cancer type.

 

Records also show that the HPV types 16, 18, 31, 35, 51, 52 are all high risk and are prevalent serotypes in Nigeria with serotypes 16 and 18 responsible for 66.9 per cent of Nigeria’s cervical cancer prevalence.

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But by providing free screening and education, the campaign empowers women to take control of their health and fight against this preventable disease.

 

Beyond The Awareness Creation and Screening

 

Beyond the awareness creation and screening, the initiative has begun vaccination for girls, who are not sexually active from nine years to 26 year-old.

 

“We started (the campaign) in November 2021 and we have reached over 30,000 women online and offline. We’ve been able to screen 500 and the target is all women who are sexually active especially women between the age of 30 to 49 years. In this group, the incidence of cervical cancer is high in our nation.

 

“Moreso, we have vaccination for girls who are not sexually active and ideally nine to 14, but we still extend it up to 26 year-old,” says Usoro, the founder of the campaign initiative.

 

Though the intervention currently is in Akwa Ibom, he says there are outreaches in Cross River, Nasarawa states as well as the Federal Capital, Abuja.

 

“Our focus is majorly in low and middle income areas of the nation, where access to awareness and screening facilities are limited.

 

“This is a preventive measure against cervical cancer while we mostly refer women with positive cases, except for the ones that can be handled in our partner facilities,” he says.

 

The founder does not stop at that, the initiative according to him, actively involved in advocacies alongside other stakeholders, which resulted in the inclusion of the HPV vaccine in Nigeria’s National Immunisation Programme, rolled out in October, 2023.

 

Providing further insights, he says the initiative organises awareness campaigns using various channels such as community outreaches, campus tours, sharing of educational materials, including on the social media platforms and on conventional media.

 

This, he said, is being achieved through partnerships and collaborations with hospitals and relevant agencies among other stakeholders. According to him, the campaign is able to leverage resources and expand its reach as well as its effectiveness.

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Funding & Constraints

 

According to Usoro, the initiative raises funds through personal contributions, support from individuals as well as funding from Nguvu collective, a group of over 250 women Change Leaders from South Asia, Kenya, Nigeria and South Africa.

 

The name “Nguvu” means “Power” in Swahili, and the organisation is inspired by the power of a collective of women Change Leaders to make a difference.

 

This organisation aims to support and empower women to become Change Leaders and create positive change in their communities with Help The Women Campaign as one of the partners to drive its aims.

 

Certainly, Help The Women Campaign has created a supportive community, where women can access vital information, resources, and care. Nevertheless, the initiative is constrained by lack of adequate funds to expand the efforts to other states in the country.

 

The founder also identifies lack of sufficient manpower, insufficient materials/equipment, security and other logistics as some of the challenges hampering the mission of the initiative.

 

All in all, the dedication of the founder has inspired others to join the fight against cervical cancer, fostering a ripple effect of hope and resilience.

 

Usoro’s story serves as a testament to the power of grassroots initiatives and the impact one person can have in driving meaningful change.

 

By confronting his grief and channeling it into action, he has improved the lives of countless women and paved the way for a healthier future.

 

**This story has been made possible through collaboration with the Nigeria Health Watch with support from the Solutions Journalism Network, a nonprofit organization.

 

***If used, credit the writer and the News Agency of Nigeria (NAN)

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