In the midst of the global pandemic and the worldwide lockdowns, it is easy to forget about the existing systems of healthcare that saved thousands of lives before, and how a lack of attention towards them could have fatal consequences. For Malians, confronting a health infrastructure whose poor conditions are already exacerbated by COVID-19 entails potentially losing a plethora of essential programs- such as the HPV and Cervical Cancer Prevention Program.
According to a recent report by the Information Centre on HPV and Cancer, an estimated 2206 women are diagnosed with cervical cancer each year, and 1704 die from the disease. When comparing the two numbers, that accounts for a fatality rate of 77.2%. Cervical cancer is the leading risk of mortality for Malian women.
What is the cause of this? As a result of an underdeveloped healthcare system, most Malian women do not have access to regular health exams or the HPV vaccine, which has been documented to prevent cervical cancer. Most Malian women are uninformed regarding the risks of the cancer and its prevention techniques, leading to its high mortality rate. This is especially concerning given that there are two widely-used HPV vaccines commonly regarded as ‘safe’ and ‘effective,’ have been approved in 120 countries since 2006. It is unacceptable that a commonly-accepted vaccine is not being made accessible for the countries whose statistics clearly demonstrate its need.
Here at GAIA, in order to develop a solution to this conflict of accessibility, realized that in order to confront HPV and Cervical Cancer in Mali, we needed to ensure that the HPV vaccine was given in adolescence- before exposure- accompanied with discussion to Malian youth regarding the stigmatized topic of sexual health. To accomplish this, we first launched a 2012 study to better understand Malians’ understanding of and willingness to get the HPV vaccine, whose findings informed us to develop the storytelling project.
In West Africa, textiles have been the crucial medium of conveying a story or communicating an idea. Working side-by-side with Malian women, GAIA Vaccine foundation developed an educational pattern promoting an understanding of cervical cancer and the HPV vaccine. The designs weave a beautiful tale of cervixes spread across the textile, with powerful messages affirming the strength of a woman like “I protect myself, I take care of myself, I immunize myself.”
In 2015, we launched our new program explicitly targeted towards HPV and cervical cancer prevention, supplying five clinics with essential supplies to offer free cervical exams. As we try to weave new stories and textiles to combat COVID-19, your donation is essential to saving thousands of Malian lives, both from the pandemic and the fatality of cervical cancer/HPV.