At 43 years old, Irene Wonge was diagnosed with cervical cancer. After suffering for several months, it wasn’t diagnosed until a campaign through Shirati Mennonite Hospital visited her village in western Tanzania. All women ages 30 to 50 years old were given cervical cancer screenings. Only then did she learn what had plagued her.
“(The health care providers) were skilled and had sound knowledge about the services they were providing,” Irene said. “(They) calmed all our anxieties.”
Irene was given a referral letter to take to the Bugando Medical Center, where they confirmed the cancer. With no bus fare, she sold her goat and two chickens to travel with her daughter to the Ocean Road Cancer Institute, a 15 to 18 hour drive, for radiotherapy treatment.
“At Ocean Road Cancer Institute, I (met) several women with same condition as mine, (and) the story is more or less the same,” she said. “Many of us are told, ‘you reported late,” (but) how do we prevent late reporting?”
IMA World Health aims to quell that fear and prevent late reporting. Through a generous grant from the Izumi Foundation, training and equipment have been provided to catch cervical cancer earlier. In the past year, through IMA’s Cervical Cancer Prevention and Control program 1,464 women were screened, with 101 (7% of the total screened) testing positive for cervical cancer.
Experiencing one of the world’s highest cervical cancer burdens, Tanzania has the highest prevalence in East Africa with approximately 33% of women at risk. In 2009, cervical cancer accounted for more than a third of all cancer patients seen at Ocean Roads Cancer Institute, the country's leading cancer treatment facility.
Irene’s story is all too common; the vast majority of patients are seen during the late stages of the disease, which considerably reduces the chances of survival. This problem is compounded by the HIV/AIDS epidemic in Tanzania. Being HIV positive increases the risk of developing cervical cancer by at least 50%, as well as an earlier onset of the disease by 10 years.
Your ongoing support of the Cervical Cancer Prevention and Control program will allow us to reach more women, do more screening and save more lives.