“Talk of the town”: An update on the cervical cancer crusade in Ngungu

Posted by On October 9, 2012
Following its restoration in July 2012, the Ngungu Health Clinic in Kabwe, Zambia has seen a tremendous increase in patient enrollment. This increase has tested and proven the skills of the newly trained health staff and created a name for the clinic in the region. The impact of the July visit is apparent not only by the physical remnants of the tape markers which remain on the porch where the ribbon cutting ceremony took place, but also through the extended clinic hours of operation (sometimes until 9pm!) necessary for nurses to be able to screen all the patients coming through clinic doors. Word is spreading about the new cancer services and the demand for breast and cervical cancer screening is rising in and beyond town borders.  More than 800 women have enrolled in services in the past three months, making Ngungu one of the most active clinics in the country. Patients are accessing the clinic from nearby provinces, triggering local government to call for more health worker training to keep up with the demand. This increase in screening has undoubtedly led to an increase in treatment, and thankfully doctors at the referral hospital in Kabwe are equipped to perform LEEP and biopsies. Although pathologists are keen to do more testing, they face challenges in accessing appropriate laboratory commodities (wax, slides, stain); Pink Ribbon Red Ribbon (PRRR) is identifying resources to fill this need.  Perhaps most surprising about this rising demand is that new services have only been promoted through word of mouth: in hair salons and at churches, woman-to-woman, neighbor-to-neighbor, peer-to-peer. When launching the refurbished Ngungu Health Clinic, President Bush said “When you see suffering, act.” No one can argue that the health staff is acting, above and beyond the call of duty. I leave you with an email received from one of the young doctors serving patients in Kabwe, recounting her recent experience with cervical cancer screening:
“When I first started the training for cervical cancer screening, it was a little challenging, but once the programme had started,  I was eagerly looking forward to being in the clinic and interacting with the women. The response from the community has been tremendous! From the moment the doors of Ngungu were opened for the cancer screening, women have been flowing in in numbers. Sometimes the number of women attending the clinic is so high that the two nurses there would only get to their homes at 21 hours! Of course not mentioning the fact that on most days the nurses are too busy to break off for lunch.   The Ngungu Cancer Screening Programme is currently the talk of the town. Two weeks ago, I was having my hair braided in a salon, and overheard a lady narrating of how she had just come from Ngungu. She went on to encourage the other women to attend the services. I could only smile.    One thing that has to be mentioned is that the screening programme is worthwhile and has been well accepted by the community. Even women from other districts and provinces are accessing the services. Although my heart bleeds every time I see a woman with advanced cervical cancer, I am comforted by the fact that very soon we will no longer be seeing women deteriorate to such a state. Thanks to the generous and thoughtful people who decided to make a difference in the lives of our women!”
It is worth the investment. It is worth the labor of love. It is worth replicating around the continent. This post was written by Doyin Oluwole, MD, FRCP, the founding Executive Director of Pink Ribbon Red Ribbon, based at the George W. Bush Institute.