Fighting Cervical Cancer in Kibera
A Community Health Volunteer’s (CHV) Story
Written by Carol Meja, CFK Africa Communications Manager
When 53-year-old CHV Rose Akoth was mobilizing women in the community of Kibera to go for cervical cancer screening in 2018, she never thought that the disease she had been battling for four years was cervical cancer. Cervical cancer is a type of cancer that occurs in the cells of the cervix — the lower part of the uterus that connects to the vagina. It is a consequence of long-term infection with Human Papilloma virus (HPV).
Through its clinics (Tabitha Medical Clinic & Tabitha Maternity Home), CFK Africa conducts routine cervical cancer screening and treatment daily for all women of reproductive age within Kibera. The main goal of this program is to isolate seemingly asymptomatic individuals who have abnormalities that indicate that they could be having a pre-cancerous condition and link them promptly with the appropriate diagnosis, care and treatment.
Tabitha Medical Clinic offers early treatment for patients with pre-cancerous lesions who qualify through cryotherapy, which is provided for patients with low-grade lesions, and LEEP treatment, which is provided by a gynecologist to all patients with high-grade lesions. Almost 90% of women who qualify for the treatment have benefited from the management of pre-cancer treatment at the facility level. In collaboration with the sub-county Ministry of Health, CFK Africa also conducts HPV vaccination campaigns in learning institutions to vaccinate young girls from the age of ten.
Before Rose was treated at CFK Africa’s Tabitha Medical Clinic, she had been misdiagnosed and treated for other conditions in many hospitals. As a CHV, she works in the community to create connections between vulnerable populations and CFK Africa’s Tabitha Medical Clinic and Tabitha Maternity Home. She talked with us about her grueling journey with a happy ending.
How long have you been working for CFK Africa as a CHV?
I have worked as a CHV for CFK Africa for eight years.
How did you find out you had cancer?
I decided to be checked when I had done everything I could to find a cure for the problems I had, which included incessant bleeding and blood clots. Just one check at Tabitha Medical [Clinic] by Nurse Macrine indicated that I had stage 2 cancer. Before the diagnosis, I had suffered for four years.
How did you process the news?
I was devastated. The very word cancer spelt doom for me; I knew I would die a few days after receiving the diagnosis. As much as I had the knowledge that cancer can be treated and one doesn’t have to die, it is very different when it’s you who has been diagnosed. Nurse Macrine assured me that they could treat the lesion right there at Tabitha Medical [Clinic] because they had the equipment and knowhow to do so. The treatment didn’t take long, and after six months, I was as fit as a fiddle and back to my usual self.
What are some of the challenges you encounter as a CHV?
Battling with myths and misconceptions about diseases in the community. When a woman gets symptoms [of] a disease like I had, they visit traditional healers who give them herbal medicine and tell them that they have been cursed. Had I gone that route, I would not be here telling my story. CHVs do a lot of work to change people’s mindsets so they can access lifesaving treatment.
What is your message to women?
No disease is a life sentence. Go to a medical facility and get treatment. Do not die away in ignorance; listen to CHVs and medical personnel so you can get better and live a long life to take care of your children. In Kibera, Tabitha Medical [Clinic] and Tabitha Maternity Home are affordable facilities that offer quality treatment. They have great medical personnel. Like in my case, a gynecologist from Kenyatta National Hospital is the one who treated me. This is because of the great partnerships that CFK Africa has; women should take advantage and get treatment.
What is your message to fellow CHVs?
I would encourage CHVs to be passionate like they have always been in helping people in the community. I love being a CHV. It is about saving lives.