I was in a taxi passing the marketplace when I saw it: a bright blue dress with a looping yellow pattern worn by a woman disappearing into the crowd. The yellow pattern of interlocking uteruses, which could, at a quick glance, be mistook for a floral vine, is our HPV educational cloth, printed at COMATEX, the main Malian textile company. It is currently being worn on the streets of Bamako and distributed at 5 health clinics where cervical cancer screening is offered free to all women!
Our campaign is called “Sensibilisation”, meaning community education. By working through cultural communication channels like well-loved radio programming for women, community health workers, and influential women leaders, we have increased screening rates at the five participating clinics by over 6 fold. In Mali, where 44 out of every 100 thousand women die of cervical cancer, spreading information about the importance of screening will not only save women’s lives, it will prevent children losing a parent, and ensure that communities know the importance of HPV vaccination once the vaccine is widely available.
As for the fabric pattern, does it work? Although we only have preliminary data from a questionnaire given to women seeking screening, the numbers speak for themselves! Of all the women who had seen the cloth, 87% correctly identified the images in the pattern. This means our peer educators are doing an excellent job explaining the cloth, and our doctors and midwives are working hard to make sure women are referred for screenings. Everyone is doing their part to fight cervical cancer!
Not only is GAIA covering the cost of cervical cancer screening and the educational campaign, we are also providing biopsies to women who test positive for pre-cancerous lesions and free referrals for treatment so that they can enjoy a cancer-free future.
As a long-time supporter of this initiative, you have seen our long-dreamt of plans become life-saving realities. However, without your continued support, this program will run out of funding in September. Please consider making a gift so that we can keep offering life saving treatment to women in Mali. You can learn more about getting a piece of the cloth yourself by visiting our website: http://www.gaiavaccine.org/get-cloth/
We are infinitely grateful for your support,
As you know, GAIA Vaccine Foundation has lead multiple research projects on HPV in Mali. From surveying people about their current understanding of the virus, to collecting biopsy samples to determine what strains of HPV are causing cervical cancers among the Malian population, GAIA has left no stone unturned in our quest to bring the HPV vaccine to Mali.
Now we are launching our research on an even larger scale: for six months we will be running community education sessions using GAIA's signature HPV cloth. We will be supplying five clinics and training medical staff and peer educators to administer our survey and perform cervical cancer screenings.
We want blow cervical cancer screening rates through the roof for all of 2015!
After arriving in Bamako last week, it's been so exciting to see all of our long-planned ideas come to fruition. We will begin recording radio programs to be broadcast all over the city next week! Our peer educators and medical staff from the five clinics will be trained by the Regional Health Director, DRS, the following week. Our cloth has already been sent to be printed at the premier Malian Textile company, COMATEX!
Please consider contributing your support as we begin this abitious project. Your donation could allow us to continue supplying the five clinics with cervical cancer screening materials after the 6 month period, and this would greatly increase Malian women's access to screenings.
Together we can fight cervical cancer!
I will be sending out photos later this week!
This is an exciting time for GAIA Vaccine Foundation! We are proud to announce that we are round 13 winners of the Grand Challenges grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation! Our HPV cloth project, called the "Story-telling cloth" is listed on their website:
And now the challenge begins! We have 18 months to prove that our innovative textile designs can change the existing culture around HPV vaccination and the lack of cervical cancer screenings in West Africa. We need your help now more than ever!
We will be running education sessions in Mali and surveying participants to assess our story-telling cloth's ability to help women understand the connection between HPV and cervical cancer.
We have a finalized version of the design that incorporates the input of the Malian focus groups that took place over the summer. Colors have been varied to best suit our community's fashion sense! We also added a popular Bambara slogan "BANAKOUBÈ KAFISA NI BANA FOURA KÈYÉ", meaning "It's better to prevent than cure".
Our founder, Annie De Groot, is currently delivering cloth to West African musicians who have agreed to support and promote our campaign. Stay tuned for photos in a future report, this promises to be eye-catching!
Please continue your support of this important innitiative. We are on the road to success, and we would love for you to join us!
We have just returned from a visit with our collaborators in Bamako, Mali!
Not only we were reporting the results of our recent study about HPV and cervical cancer in Mali, but also we are setting the stage for distribution of the HPV vaccine.
I brought 20 yards of the fabric print with me to show to neighborhood leaders and our collaborators in the scientific community. When we showed the cloth to doctors, they picked up on the imagery of the fallopian tubes, uterus, and virus, and they knew exactly what it was referring to. They were concerned, however, that patients would not have the same familiarity with scientific imagery.
In a small room at the Hope Center clinic, thirty women crowded in to hear about the cloth project and voice their opinions on the print. Leaders of the neighborhood women's groups had recently attended our conference on HPV, so in rapid-fire Bambara (the local language) they explained the connection between the virus and cervical cancer, which has an especially high mortality rate in Mali due to lack of access to testing and treatment. Although I couldn’t understand what they were saying, I watched comprehension flood their faces, as they all knew someone who had been a victim of the disease. They assured me that they could use the fabric as a teaching device when they wore it. "When people ask us questions about the pattern, we can explain the images", they said, demonstrating how they would hold out one arm with the fabric draped over it.
Even better, they all wanted the fabric! I took copious notes on the exact quantity we would need (Each lady needs 6 yards to make a matching top, skirt, and head wrap!). We received suggestions on how to tweak our slogan so that it could be better understood. The revised slogan will read, "Je me protege, je me dépiste tôt, je me vaccine", I protect myself (by avoiding risky sexual contact), I get tested early (to catch early development of cervical cancer), and I get vaccinated (against HPV).
The village chief, an elderly man, who is nonetheless very innovative and supportive of our projects, suggested the perfect slogan in Bambara to add to the cloth: “Banakoubé kafisa ni bana foura keye”, meaning, “it’s better to prevent than to cure". He understood the importance of the project right away!
We come back from this trip feeling blessed to have such fantastic collaborators in Mali. We are full of renewed energy and motivation for this project.
This fall, we will begin the "sensibilisation" or "sensitization" campaign, meaning we will print a huge batch of the cloth and hold meetings with many, many community members to ensure that everyone understands the importance and relevancy of the vaccination campaign.
We are well on our way to our goal, but we still need your continued support!
In 2014, GAIA Vaccine Foundation completed a study to investigate knowledge of human papilloma virus and HPV vaccination as well as prevalence of cervical cancer causing strains of HPV in Mali. Rates of cervical cancer in Mali are the highest in West Africa, and it is the leading cause of cancer-related mortalities. This is due to inaccessibility to healthcare and annual exams, and a lack of knowledge about HPV. Among the 300 individuals interviewed, 43% knew what HPV was, although only 9% knew that HPV is transmitted sexually. After an ensuing information session, everyone understood that the HPV vaccine could prevent cervical cancer; 77% wanted to participate in an HPV vaccine trial, and 84% of adult participants wanted their children to receive the vaccine. Importantly, this study also verified the presence of vaccine-preventable HPV strains 16 and 18, which cause 70% of cervical cancers worldwide, in women undergoing surgery for cervical cancer in Bamako.
Building off of our current research, our proposal is to investigate the most effective method of vaccine delivery in West Africa, while at the same time, providing culturally integrated educational tools that can be used by the population to understand and spread information about healthy behaviors and preventative vaccination. Cultural and religious sensitivities in the region regarding vaccine programs for young girls are a common problem in most African and North African countries. Additionally, mistrust of medical personnel and the difficulty of completing the three doses required for HPV vaccination pose challenges to HPV vaccine distribution on both a social and organizational level. In order to succeed in providing young girls with a vaccine, GAIA VF has created a multifaceted plan of action to educate and incentivize vaccine completion.
GAIA VF has designed a commemorative cloth in the West African wax print style that will illustrate relevant health information to be distributed upon completion of the vaccination series to the family of girls (ages 9-12) vaccinated at the Hope Center Clinic. Completion rates for 3 dose vaccines are typically abysmally low at 50%. To encourage pharmaceutical companies to participate in vaccination campaigns, it is vitally important to investigate effective methods of encouraging people to become more proactive about their health and the health of their children.
In West Africa, the fabric of everyday clothing is loaded with symbolic meaning that sends a direct message to society. GAIA VF’s textile tool is based on a long history of commemorative prints used to promote political events and holidays. New patterns are printed each year to commemorate such events as International Women’s day and AIDS day. While slogans are frequently used, our pattern will not only speak with words that promote vaccination (our slogan is Je me soigne, Je me protége, Je m’immunise, I care for myself, I protect myself, I vaccinate), it will also educate visually by showing images of the virus, the cervix, and cancer cells. Cells that are healthy near the cervix transform into cancerous cells as they approach the image of the virus. By using this fabric as an incentive and a wearable teaching device, we will be utilizing the power of textiles as traditional social media in West Africa to encourage people to become proactive about their health and the health of their children.
The 33,000 doses that we urgently wanted to distribute have been distributed by others since we lost funding due to the political upheaval in Mali. Our overall goal is not diminished however, and we are still working towards further investigating the best methods for vaccine delivery.
We need your help!
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Founder and Scientific Director