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Why Ethiopia?

Posted by On March 6, 2015
Photo of Ethiopia Woman By Andrea Kirsten-Coleman Last month, Secretary Margaret Spellings, together with Her Excellency Mrs. Roman Tesfaye, the First Lady of Ethiopia, and His Excellency Dr. Keseteberhan Admasu, Ethiopia’s Minister of Health, launched the work of Pink Ribbon Red Ribbon in Ethiopia at a ceremony at the Hilton Addis Ababa. Pink Ribbon Red Ribbon is currently engaged in Zambia (since 2011), Botswana (since 2012), and Tanzania (since 2013). Here’s how we chose Ethiopia as the partnership’s fourth country of focus: There is a very real need to focus on women’s cancers in Ethiopia. In Ethiopia, 27 million women are over the age of 15 and at risk of developing cervical cancer. The country’s one cancer referral facility, Tikur Anbessa (Black Lion) Hospital, located in the capital city of Addis Ababa, allocates only 18 beds for cancer treatment.  After breast cancer, cervical cancer is most frequently found in Ethiopian women, and has the highest mortality rate compared to other cancers. Current estimates indicate 7,095 women are diagnosed with cervical cancer, and 4,732 (67 percent) will lose their life to the disease each year.  These figures are likely underestimated, since Ethiopia lacks a nationwide cancer registry program, most women who seek medical treatment are in late stages of the disease, and the absence of regular screenings makes knowing how many women live with early stages of the cancer impossible. In a 2010 report by the World Health Organization and the Institut Català d’Oncologia, Ethiopia placed third-to-last on a ranking of estimated coverage of cervical cancer screenings in various countries.  Studies show only 0.4 percent of rural women and 1.6 percent of urban women aged 18 to 69 undergo screenings every three years in Ethiopia. While both figures are of concern, the numbers indicate the greater need for screening facilities in rural areas, which is why Pink Ribbon Red Ribbon plans to roll out the single-visit “See-and-Treat” approach for cervical pre-cancer at peri-urban and rural sites in the Regions of Oromia and Southern Nations, Nationalities and Peoples (SNNPR). The Ethiopian federal Government and local organizations share similar goals, and show interest in working together to combat these cancers. The Ethiopian Government’s commitment to prioritize women’s cancers is unprecedented in sub-Saharan Africa (outside South Africa).  This is apparent in recent announcements to allocate resources to pertinent projects, and in increased activism by Government officials and local organizations.  The First Lady, Her Excellency Mrs. Roman Tesfaye, heads a newly created National Cancer Committee, and has expressed a desire to be a champion for the cause. The Ethiopian Government also recently announced plans to use its own resources for the expansion and decentralization of cancer treatment, including radiotherapy, to five regional university teaching hospitals; the expansion of screening and treatment for cervical cancer to 118 additional public hospitals; and the regionalization of the provision of chemotherapy. Among others, the following organizations with in-country presence have joined Pink Ribbon Red Ribbon to fight cervical and breast cancer in Ethiopia:  the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS), the World Health Organization Country Office, Black Lion Hospital, the Catholic Organisation for Relief and Development (CORDAID), Grounds for Health, Doctors with Africa CUAMM, General Electric (GE), Mathiwos Wondu Ye- Ethiopia Cancer Society, St. Luke Catholic Hospital, Beza and Mary Joy Development Association. Pink Ribbon Red Ribbon partners will commit their time and resources to ensure a successful roll-out of Pink Ribbon Red Ribbon-supported programs in Ethiopia. The following organizations have committed (over $7.8 million)  in support of Pink Ribbon Red Ribbon’s program implementation in Ethiopia:  GSK, the Bristol-Myers Squibb Foundation,  the U.S. President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief, the International Atomic Energy Agency,  the American Cancer Society, Cordaid’s U.S. Leaders Council, GE, and Grounds for Health. Ultimately, our goal in establishing Pink Ribbon Red Ribbon programs in a country is to improve women’s lives so that they can contribute to the future economic and social success of the country.  That’s our goal in Ethiopia.  We look forward to implementing these interventions and helping the Government eventually sustain its own nationwide effort to combat cervical and breast cancer in Ethiopia. Andrea Kirsten-Coleman is Program Manager, Communications, Development and Partner Outreach, Pink Ribbon Red Ribbon.