Jul 28, 2016

Ultrasound Screening Program in Full Swing!

Nurse doing an ultrasound screening
Nurse doing an ultrasound screening

I’d like to start by again expressing our infinite appreciation for your generous donations and continuing support of Hoedspruit Training Trust and the breast cancer project. We have secured Hlokomela’s very own-multi-purpose ultrasound machine, which we believe will be an invaluable asset for local communities in detecting breast cancer earlier, and a critical first step toward improved treatment and survival. Importantly, the purchase of ultrasound equipment has nurtured collaboration with RAD-AID, an internal radiology NGO. This will allow access to a large number of trained radiology volunteers to continue breast ultrasound education at Hlokomela, with the potential for the machine to be used in the future for general ultrasound work such as prenatal scans and in patients with TB- or HIV-related symptoms.  This incredible opportunity could not have happened without you—we are extremely grateful.


The health worker training program kicked off in late June with a breast health education session at Hlokomela’s staff retreat. Our team—Drs. Susan Lucas, Palesa Mutshutshu and Tarryn Murfin,from the Department of Diagnostic Radiology at Wits University in Johannesburg, and myself—spoke to Hlokomela’s staff about breast cancer in South Africa and the potential for breast ultrasound to bring positive change to the community. We even demonstrated how to conduct a monthly breast self examination, and encouraged staff members to spread the word to family, friends, and patients!


On July 5th, we officially launched breast ultrasound training. Twelve health workers from the Hlokomela and Bavaria clinics attended the didactic portion of the training, which consisted of presentations and handouts covering breast cancer facts, the project’s vision, training objectives, indications for ultrasound, breast anatomy, technical factors, lesion characterization including how to differentiate between benign and malignant masses, and the review of over a dozen cases. The following two and a half weeks were devoted to hands-on training with a portable ultrasound machine—generously lent by Chison to use until the full-sized machine arrives—which involved tutorial sessions as well as performing breast ultrasound scans for more than 20patients. Each patient visit involved asking about personal and family history of breast cancer, screening for common breast cancer-related symptoms, performing a full breast ultrasound scan, and counseling patients on how to perform monthly breast self exams. The health workers have shown an incredible investment in promoting breast cancer awareness and early detection using ultrasound, and have expressed a strong desire to augment training in order to better serve the community. As one health worker stated: “Knowledge is power. The more I learn, the more my facility will survive.”


Looking forward, we will strive to provide sustained support as this exciting program grows. Dr. Susan Harvey and two biomedical engineering students from Johns Hopkins will visit Hoedspruit in August to follow up on ultrasound training and strengthen connections at Hlokomela and surrounding clinics. The larger project vision is to use available proven technology—ultrasound for detection, fine needle aspiration for diagnosis, and cryotherapy for treatment—to transform breast cancer care by making each step accessible to the community, demonstrating the project’s feasibility and ultimately obtaining funds to scale a cost-effective and locally available breast cancer detection, diagnosis, and treatment program.   

Training team
Training team
May 4, 2016

Our first update!

Constance and Whitney, our superstar volunteers!
Constance and Whitney, our superstar volunteers!

Thank you!

First of all, a huge Thank You! to everyone who donated to Hlokomela during the Open Challenge. We have surpassed our initial goal of $12,000, which means we are able to fund our breast cancer screening programme for the next year. We were overcome with the generosity of donors, and we are very excited to begin offering breast cancer screening services to those who would not otherwise have been able to access them.


Researchers from Johns Hopkins University (Baltimore, USA) and University of Witwatersrand (Johannesburg, South Africa) along with the help of two fantastic local volunteers, Constance and Whitney, have been busy conducting a survey of women at the clinic to find out about their current knowledge of breast cancer symptoms, their attitudes towards treatment, and their personal experience with breast cancer. While data collection is still underway, we have already surveyed over 150 women. We hope to use this data to create a sustainable breast cancer screening, education, and treatment programme that women will want to utilize, as well as to understand the current picture of breast cancer prevalence, knowledge, and attitudes so that we will know if and how much our programme makes a difference!

Health Worker Training

A date has been set for our health worker training programme. On June 24th, volunteers will arrive from Johannesburg and Baltimore to begin training our nurses in the use of ultrasound for breast cancer screening. One radiologist and two radiology registrars will be coming from The Chris Hani Baragwanath Hosptial in Johannesburg along with a Johns Hopkins University medical student trained in ultrasound. The clinic’s nurses will all be trained in the use of ultrasound, which will not only help our screening programme but will also give them skills to help advance their careers.

Breast Health Education

We have begun discussions with the Breast Health Foundation (BHF) to collaborate with Hlokomela to organize a breast health education day this coming June/July. While plans have not yet been formalized, we are hoping to have BHF volunteers join us in Hoedspruit to provide a fun educational programme for both our Nompilos and patients. Nompilos are an important part of the work that Hlokomela does. These peer educators/care givers come to Hlokomela once a month for a full day’s training on specific healthcare topics and then head out into their communities and farms to educate those who would not otherwise have been reached. By providing education to these Nompilos on breast health and the importance of early detection, we hope to encourage more women to come for screening. Details on the education programme are still being finalized, but watch this space!


Thank you again for your support, and we look forward to bringing you more updates as this programme gets underway!

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