By Andrea Kirsten-Coleman Towards the end of 2014, Pink Ribbon Red Ribbon reached a milestone ─ screening of the 100,000th woman for cervical cancer in our countries of engagement. This means that 100,000 women in Botswana, Tanzania, and Zambia know their status, and can envision their future. We know that this milestone is more than a number. Here’s what it means:
- 100,000 women have the potential for longer lives. Studies show that the rates of death from cervical cancer globally are now exceeding the maternal mortality rates. Women are surviving childbirth, yet dying of cervical cancer later in life. Screening, either as part of family planning, post natal care or delivered at another time during their lives, ensures that these women see their children’s future.
- Their daughters have the potential of a future free from cervical cancer. Infection with the human papillomavirus (HPV) causes virtually all cervical cancer. As mothers receive screening for cervical cancer, they can be made aware of the benefits of HPV vaccination for their daughters. In countries where this option is available, three doses of HPV vaccine ensure that young girls have a 70-percent chance of not developing cervical cancer over their lifetimes.
- Health systems are stronger. Adding screening and treatment for cervical pre-cancer to the work of an existing hospital or clinic that already addresses other diseases helps to train health care workers, expanding their knowledge base and skill sets. Nurses, midwives and doctors can take a more holistic approach to a woman’s health. As a result, health systems as a whole are enhanced, there is less missed opportunity for care.
- The economies of the countries where these women live are more robust. Women are a formidable economic force across Africa. According to the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization, women make up 70 percent of the agricultural labor force and are responsible for 80 percent of food production across the continent, in addition to performing household responsibilities. Extending the lives of 100,000 women has a vast economic impact on the continent.
- Countries’ national cancer strategies move into action. In countries where we work, we complement the existing national cancer strategy or assist to develop it. Integrating Pink Ribbon Red Ribbon-supported screening for cervical cancer into other health programs helps to bolster these plans, and provides momentum for broader implementation.