A new coalition of community-based organizations will identify the barriers to screening and shape solutions that meet the needs of women in sub-Saharan Africa. This initiative is a key part of FIND’s (https://www.FINDdx.org/) Women’s Health programme, which is supported by the Governments of Canada and Netherlands. Announcement made on International Women’s Day 2023.
On International Women’s Day, FIND and KILELE Health Association announced the launch of a community engagement coalition to expand cervical cancer screening in sub-Saharan Africa. The coalition, comprising a network of community and civil society organizations, will work to identify the obstacles that limit uptake of screening for the disease, raise awareness of preventive measures, advocate for urgent action to accelerate progress towards achieving national elimination targets by 2030, and provide user-led feedback and preferences to inform development and scale-up of new testing technologies and strategies.
Insights from the coalition will shape FIND’s broader strategy to increase access to cervical cancer screening and accelerate elimination of this devastating yet preventable and treatable disease. FIND is working in partnership with ministries of health and affected communities to co-design solutions that start with communities and tie seamlessly into national cervical cancer screening services to accelerate progress towards global elimination goals.
Every two minutes (https://apo-opa.info/3SVGncm), a woman dies of cervical cancer. One of the world’s major global health challenges, women living in lower-income countries (https://apo-opa.info/3L1ItFJ) are most affected, with mortality rates in sub-Saharan Africa up to 18 times higher (https://apo-opa.info/3F4X9jz) than in other regions. Caused in most cases by HPV, cervical cancer is both preventable and curable – with some models showing that a combination of “twice-lifetime” screening (between 35 and 45 years of age) alongside HPV vaccination for girls and young women and linkage to treatment could reduce cervical cancer cases by up to 97% (https://apo-opa.info/3Yyqmua).
Effective prevention, screening and treatment approaches exist, and could make cervical cancer the first cancer to be eliminated (https://apo-opa.info/3msDRhD). But these measures aren’t reaching the regions with the highest burden of disease. Around 44% (https://apo-opa.info/3mxeoUn) of women in low- and middle-income countries have never been screened, with limited availability of new high-performance tests, high prices, lack of public awareness and stigma all creating barriers to access. Women living with HIV are at particularly high risk and need targeted testing strategies.
Essential to the success of cervical cancer elimination will be a deep understanding of the barriers that prevent women from getting screened and their preferences on screening services and approaches (where, how, and by whom). The newly announced coalition benefits from an existing network that is already operating to drive action against cancer and HIV in high-burden countries in Africa and will expand coverage to reach all eligible women. For cervical cancer, 30 people in high-burden countries have already received training and education around the goals and strategies for disease elimination, including the role of HPV testing and self-collection of samples. These individuals will conduct community focus group discussions and surveys to gather insights from other women about their perceptions and preferences. They will also advocate for life-saving cervical cancer screening to reduce stigma and increase demand for tests.
Dr Angela Muriuki, newly appointed Director of the Women’s Health Programme at FIND and a passionate advocate for people-centred approaches to addressing the needs of women and girls, said: “Through this initiative, women-led community organizations are empowered to play an active role in co-creating scalable solutions to address health inequalities and expand access to care. These women, representing those bearing the heaviest burden of cervical cancer globally, should be shaping policies and driving action at national, regional and global levels so that policies are responsive to their needs and expectations. FIND is committed to co-developing solutions that start with the community to empower their voice in shaping scalable approaches that will align with national priorities to drive equitable access to diagnostics and health services.”
Benda Kithaka, Executive Director of KILELE Health Association, said: “Women in Africa face many challenges occasioned by inequity. Evidenced by inequity in accessing education, healthcare, employment, and many other social ills that plague women and girls. One thing that women in Africa have taught us is resilience in handling issues that affect them. Including women and communities in solutions for cervical health not only empowers them to take agency, but also to formulate solutions that are relatable, actionable and grounded in their lived experiences. The collaborative work with FIND comes as a timely intervention, in advancing our plans to equip communities with knowledge, skills and agency to be active contributors to the elimination of cervical cancer.”
FIND’s Women’s Health portfolio was launched in 2021 (https://apo-opa.info/3kVy4Rr) and is currently backed by new funding from the governments of Canada and the Netherlands, as part of their broader commitments to FIND to advance progress in diagnostic testing.
Distributed by APO Group on behalf of FIND.
Director, Communications, FIND
M: +41 79 431 62 44
Benda N. Kithaka
Executive Director, KILELE Health
FIND, the global alliance for diagnostics, seeks to ensure equitable access to reliable diagnosis around the world. We connect countries and communities, funders, decision-makers, healthcare providers and developers to spur diagnostic innovation and make testing an integral part of sustainable, resilient health systems. We are working to save 1 million lives through accessible, quality diagnosis, and save US$1 billion in healthcare costs to patients and health systems. We are co-convener of the Access to COVID-19 Tools (ACT) Accelerator diagnostics pillar, and a WHO Collaborating Centre for Laboratory Strengthening and Diagnostic Technology Evaluation. For more information, please visit www.FINDdx.org
About KILELE Health Association:
KILELE Health Association is Kenyan grassroots non-profit organization, registered in Kenya under the Societies Act (CAP.108), registration number R.53480. Our Vision is a Kenya with reduced burden, severity and impact of cancer and other NCDS on its peoples’ health, wealth and livelihoods. Our Mission is to increase access to information, resources, capacities and services for prevention, management and control of cancer, while empowering communities to own their health for prosperity and in attainment of optimal quality of life. KILELE Health is committed to meaningfully engaging Survivors, Caregivers and other stakeholders as agents of change, by improving understanding of the link between disease prevention, survivorship and quality of life. We therefore work closely with our members to promote excellence in the advancement of care for persons living with chronic health conditions and their caregivers, by providing a forum to exchange skills, knowledge and ideas towards the attainment of optimal quality of life.