(Photo: Amref Health Africa)
Non-communicable diseases (NCDs) such as cancer are on the rise in sub-Saharan Africa. According to the World Health Organization, NCDs will soon be the leading cause of ill health, disability and premature death in Africa. In Kenya, cervical cancer is the most common cancer among women between 15 and 44.
That’s why we’ve made cervical cancer screenings available to women living in an underserved area of Kenya – Kibera, the largest informal urban settlement where most of its residents live close to or below the poverty line. We run the only public clinic in Kibera which also offers immunization services, pregnancy checkups, family planning, and testing and treatment for HIV and TB.
Scholastica is a resident of Kibera. She is a cancer survivor: “I remember hearing about cancer screenings from Amref and Community Health Workers (CHWs) but at first, I just ignored them,” Scholastica recalls.
At the time, Scholastica was always feeling sickly and fatigued but did not think much of it. “The CHWs were very persistent and came checking up on me all the time. They had noticed I was sickly and they tried getting me to go to hospital to get tested. It was their deep concern that eventually won me over and I went and got tested.”
CHWs like Patricia (left) play a crucial role by raising awareness of the services such as cervical cancer screenings and family planning offered at the public clinic in Kibera. (Photo: Amref Health Africa)
Scholastica was diagnosed with Stage 3 Cervical Cancer: “I did not know how to react when I heard the result. I never thought that I could get cancer so it was life-changing. I was sad and depressed for a long time after the diagnosis and did not want to see anyone. I just kept to myself and then loneliness made me more depressed,” she states.
Even though she was informed that the cancer was treatable, Scholastica did not believe it. It was only after CHWs met with her and encouraged her that she began to change her perspective.
The CHWs inspired her to use her own story to create awareness about cancer. The constant care she received from the CHVs during her treatment also impressed and made her curious to know more about the great work they were doing: “I asked these wonderful people about their work and I became very interested as I felt it was my duty to help other people just as I had been assisted.” That’s when she decided to become a CHW herself and received training from Amref Health Africa.
Now Scholastica visits churches, mosques, and her neighbors’ homes to create awareness about cancer as well as issues such as HIV/AIDS, hypertension, family planning, hygiene and sanitation. She has also joined a network of cancer survivors who have formed a support group where members help and motivate each other.
“I really must thank Amref Health Africa who have equipped me with these skills. I am confident that wherever I go, I will have a positive impact.”