(Direct translation- Women's Day-- but pretty sure not an accurate translation)
When I heard that International Women’s Day was a public holiday in Uganda, I was initially very jealous! In a country that has many of the same gender issues that we have back at home, and in many times they are much worse, it was great surprise to find that the country of Uganda takes the time to acknowledge their women, even if only for a day. On Women’s day, not only is everyone off but more importantly, the men are supposed to serve the women for the day and do all of the daily household chores. All across the country there are multiple women empowerment events, competitions, celebrations and for us at the hospital- free health screenings.
Knowing that it was such a huge deal, I was extremely excited for the potentially small but meaningful health impact the day could make in our Mpererwe community. I was excited by the proposition to provide a health talk, especially surrounding cervical cancer screenings, HPV and its vaccine. When I researched cervical cancer rates in Uganda, I quickly discovered that it was the number one cause of cancer death in women at 47.5/100,000, and this information truly broke my heart knowing that this preventable cancer was responsible for the deaths of so many women was difficult to fathom. I then learned that there was no efficient and tracked way that cervical cancer screening was being done because not only are pap smears not adequately available, but they also don’t really have a strong enough medical infrastructure to be able to maintain adequate screening protocols. Additionally, although the HPV vaccine is available, there remains a lot misinformation surrounding it (for example, that it causes infertility) and therefore many do not receive it.
In my talk, I tried to educate about cervical cancer, the HPV virus, other cancers it causes and the vaccine. The women were engaged, asked questions, and even asked me to bring that back home to the states with me! It was a humbling and unforgettable experience. We then spent the full day performing cervical cancer screenings, breast cancer screenings and family planning. We saw almost 100 women and served in whatever way that we could. We had a few positive screens and a few screens that I may have considered positive, although the rest of the team was not convinced. I think that is where there might be some education gaps. We are taught that any cervical changes or small lesions are a cause for re-screening in 6-12 months, but that is not the case here. I tried to educate on the importance of early diagnosis and prevention of advanced cervical cancer, so I hope that I also made a small difference.
It was a truly an amazing day and I am so grateful I was able to be a part of it.