Aug 10, 2020

Supplies, Stories, and Sessions Against Cervical C

While protests against governmental abuses run concurrently with the COVID-19 pandemic, access to healthcare- an already-weak sector in Mali- has become increasingly more difficult. This is especially concerning for the population of Malian women we work with at GAIA VF, especially as it pertains to combatting the high rates of HPV and cervical cancer in the country. 

Cervical cancer is the leading cancer-related fatality amongst Malian women. This is concerning given that the Human Papillomavirus, which causes 70 percent of cervical cancer cases, has a widely accepted vaccine that is 99 percent effective. This inequity demonstrates the clear disparities that exist within global health infrastructure. Unfortunately, these injustices are only compounded by the stigma surrounding the condition, another core reason behind the development of  GAIA VF’s HPV and Cervical Cancer Prevention program. 

Since 2013, we have supplied five clinics with access to the HPV vaccine and free cervical screenings. Our most notable initiative, however, is the storytelling project. In West Africa, textiles have been traditionally used as a source of communication, such as narrating different cultural tales. At GAIA VF, we worked closely with women in Bamako, Mali to develop our own textile, focused specifically on HPV and Cervical Cancer prevention. Printed with the words of “I protect myself, I take care of myself, I immunize myself” across an image of healthy cervixes, this project promotes girls to receive the HPV vaccine and women to be screened by cervical cancer. The initiative is unique in that it is inspired by the West African tradition, using a familiar cultural concept to address public health concerns and help eliminate the stigma. 

Another key tenet of our project is increasing awareness. Working with the Malian Regional Health Director, peer educators are trained in the specifics regarding HPV and cervical cancer education. These women wear the HPV cloth to help increase knowledge of screenings and the vaccine in different neighborhoods, lead info sessions, and also collaborate with media personnel (like radio hosts) to foster better understanding of cervical cancer. 

Moving forward, especially amidst the COVID-19 pandemic, your donations go a long way in helping continue our fight against HPV and Cervical Cancer prevention. Raised funds will go directly towards overcoming the numerous global, social, and financial barriers that prevent proper access to cervical screenings and the HPV vaccine. In the United States, according to the  American Cancer Society,  the fatality rate of cervical cancer is 31 percent. According to the HPV Prevention Centre, it is more than double in Mali, with 77% of women dying post-diagnosis. To fight this inequity, please donate to continue funding our campaign to provide the HPV vaccine and cervical screenings while simultaneously increasing awareness and eliminating the disease’s associated stigma.

Aug 10, 2020

Early August COVID in Mali Update

According to press release 156, published on August 5th by the Malian Ministry of Health and Social Affairs, there had been a total of 2,546 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in the country. As of August 7th, there have been an additional 15 confirmed cases, bringing the total to 2,561. Less than 500 of these confirmed cases are currently active. 

These updates are promising, as we see that many countries around the world are dealing with much higher rates of infection. However, access to testing has been an issue. As previously stated in a report, only certain community health centers are able to actually provide testing. Nonetheless, we must continue to take COVID-19 seriously, educate the public, and provide supplies to the clinic to protect against COVID-19. 

A recent article published by UNICEF tells the story of Samba (a pseudonym given to maintain anonymity), a 13 year old child experiencing homelessness in Bamako. It is estimated that there are at least several thousand children experiencing homelessness in Bamako and therefore living on the streets. UNICEF and Samusocial Mali, in collaboration with the Central Emergency Response Fund, have been able to provide handwashing stations that are easily accessible around the city. However, this is just one example of groups at risk for COVID-19, and one of many reasons to continue taking the pandemic seriously.

It is also important to note that commercial air travel has resumed as of July 25th, and land borders reopened last Friday (July 31st). Social distancing measures, mask-wearing, and testing are all part of the procedures. However, it is too early to know how this may impact the number of COVID-19 cases in the country. 

Your donation will help us to provide gloves, masks, disinfectant, testing, and more for people in Mali. Working together, we can continue to combat this virus. Thank you for your support.

Aug 6, 2020

Health Education to Empower Malian Teens

According to UNICEF, although education in Mali has been improving over the last decade, more than two million children between 5 to 17 years of age still do not go to school, and over half of Mali’s young people aged 15 to 24 are illiterate. Contributing factors to the high drop out and out-of-school rates include household poverty, child labor, child marriage, insecurity and a lack of schools close to children’s homes. Access to and completion of schooling is particularly challenging for Malian women. Due to reasons relating to child marriage or early pregnancy, girls from the poorest families are at highest risk of school dropout; only 73.8% of girls are enrolled in primary basic education, compared with 85.8% of boys. By the time they reach secondary education, the proportion of girls enrolled is only 15%, compared with 21% of boys. According to the United Nations Population Fund, in 2017, 43% of Malian girls between the ages 15-19 were married, perhaps more notable was that the UNFP also found that less than 6.5% of these young girls reported using any form of protection when engaging in sexual activity with their spouses.

The committee on prevention and control of sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) in the USA estimated that the annual costs of selected major STDs are approximately $10 billion, or $17 billion if HIV is included. Taking into account the national 2% HIV prevalence and a HPV prevalence of 12% among Malian women—rates primarily driven by a lack of awareness, early sexual debut and marriage, as well as sexually transmitted infections—inadequate health education and resources pose a tremendous burden to Mali and have significant health, social and economic consequences. The Malian government has not remained idle in addressing this issue, in fact, in 2018 education officials attempted to incorporate health and reproductive health subjects into the teaching curriculum. However, in 2019, the Malian government announced that it was withdrawing a proposed sexual education textbook for adolescents after Malian religious leaders voiced strong opposition.

GAIA VF recognizes that school-based health management and reproductive health knowledge, as well as the availability of adequate facilities, can be a significant factor in keeping youth, particularly young girls, in school and ensuring their academic success. Because it is rare for Malian families to discuss the onset of puberty and sexual health, the first critical step is to overcome the taboos and misconceptions that surround these topics. Via the Teen Peer Educator Program, teen girls and boys have a better understanding of health and are empowered to manage their own health, practice safe and healthy behaviors, and continue their education. The internal turmoil currently developing in Mali has proved that Malian youth are an important voice in the call for change. It is Mali’s youth from all political, class and ethnic groups who have come together and are driving the movement. Until all youth in Mali can access accurate health education and resources, GAIA VF is committed to addressing this area of need. Donating to the Teen Peer Educator Program today ensures the well-being of Mali’s youth tomorrow.

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