At GAIA VF, we have four main objectives: Education, Vaccination, Prevention, and Access to care. One of our initiatives, the HPV and Cervical Cancer Prevention Initiative, is rooted in all four.
Though not formally beginning until 2015, work for the HPV and Cervical Cancer Prevention Initiative began in 2011. We began a two-fold analytical study in Mali as research for a future HPV vaccine campaign. To provide context, the Human Papillomavirus is responsible for 70 percent of cervical cancer cases, and its vaccine is 99 percent effective. Despite this, cervical cancer is the most common cancer among Malian women, and the leading cause of all cancer-related mortalities. Considering this high fatality rate, it is shocking that the results of our study demonstrated that only 8.6% knew that HPV was a sexually transmitted disease, and only 2.7% had ever had a cervical exam.
It is unacceptable that a country suffering disproportionately from cervical cancer cases does not have a widely-available vaccine preventing 70% of cases accessible in the country. For that reason, in order to combat this inequity, GAIA VF has been working to not only provide access to the HPV vaccine, but also educate Malian women about the importance of cervical screenings and sexual health.
In West Africa, textiles are often used as a source of communication. The patterns printed on the textiles often convey stories, quotes, and/or morales. In March 2015, GAIA VF launched our unique storytelling campaign, designing a pattern surrounding the importance of the HPV vaccine/cervical cancer prevention. This design tells the story of strong, educated women who proclaim: “I protect myself, I take care of myself, and I immunize myself,” a mantra that is written across images of healthy cervixes. Through integrating the HPV/cervical cancer initiative within the textiles, Malian culture is interwoven with our goals of spreading awareness about cervical screenings and the HPV vaccine. It allows for the topic to be addressed in a familiar manner, raising awareness in a culturally relevant fashion.
In addition to the storytelling project, our staff clinic are working tirelessly raising awareness. While wearing the HPV cloth, peer educators will lead programs and initiatives in different neighborhoods, while medical staff are responsible for information sessions at our clinics. In terms of media, radio personnel are involved in incorporating the importance of regular screening and the HPV vaccine within their programming.
GAIA is committed to supplying clinics with supplies to offer free cervical exams and provide access to the HPV vaccine. An April 2020 study conducted by the medical journal Vaccines reveals that as of now, “neither [HPV] vaccines nor screenings are within the reach of the population in Mali…”, indicating that our work is far from over. In order to continue and expand our work in Mali, please continue donating to not only provide access to the HPV vaccine and cervical screenings, but also work to eliminate the associated stigma. Any amount helps- a donation of $10 provides a cervical cancer screening and printed cloth for 1 woman, and $15 provides treatment for 1 woman with precancerous lesions. Amidst COVID-19 and the extreme political unrest in the country, your contribution goes a long way in helping us expand access to the HPV vaccine, cervical screening, and awareness campaigns.