Changing Health Outcomes in Sierra Leone

by | Jul 2, 2024 | Global Health, Sierra Leone

Today, cervical cancer disproportionately affects the poorest women in the poorest parts of the world. But collaborative efforts to eliminate cervical cancer are happening in Sierra Leone. 

A Future Without Cervical Cancer 

Data shows vaccination against HPV, the virus that causes more than 90% of cervical cancers, combined with cervical screening radically reduces the risk of developing cervical cancer. A 2020 World Health Organization (WHO) strategy to eliminate cervical cancer has been adopted by 194 countries, and it’s likely that it will be eradicated within our lifetime. 

Progress in Sierra Leone 

This news gives hope to women in Sierra Leone. The Sierra Leone Ministry of Health started a cervical cancer screening program in 2021, primarily in the capital city, Freetown, and neighboring suburbs. In 2022, World Hope piloted a cervical cancer screening program in rural communities in northern Sierra Leone. With a dedicated mobile screening team visiting every peripheral health unit in the district at least twice a year, close to 7,500 women in more than 80 villages have been screened. 

Treating advanced cervical cancer, however, is difficult. Patients in Sierra Leone have limited access to the services they need for treatment and only a few women who can afford international travel can find treatment if they are diagnosed with advanced cervical cancer. 

The precancerous stage, typically lasting 5 to 10 years, offers an ideal opportunity for intervention. Screening involves “see and treat,” a low-cost way of identifying, assessing, and treating precancerous disease of the cervix during one short visit. The screening method used is known as visual inspection with acetic acid, or VIA.  Medical staff simply apply vinegar – a readily available and inexpensive resource – to the cervix, and after one-minute, precancerous lesions take on a white appearance. Medical staff treat these spots immediately with a portable, handheld, battery-powered thermal ablative device. 

2 cervical cancer screening team members
Cervical cancer screening supplies include vinegar

Why it’s Working 

The team’s ability to reach women in their own communities means more women are being screened. Of the close to 7,500 women World Hope has screened, 363 have had positive screening tests, and 343 were treated the same day. 

A local musician has been an asset at getting the word out about the program. Milton, better known as “Stuntman”, records songs with important social messages.  His recognizable voice is being used to bring awareness to Cervical Cancer Screening and people are responding positively. 

Challenges Remain 

Hurdles continue to exist for women in Sierra Leone who need to be screened for cervical cancer: many women cannot afford to travel to the nearest town or city, are too busy with planting, or are unable to receive their husband’s permission to be screened (a cultural requirement). 

Today, children in Sierra Leone are still losing their mothers to cervical cancer. Death of a caregiver directly increases childhood risks of mortality, poor nutrition, and neglect. But it doesn’t have to be this way. There are ways to prevent cervical cancer and give young girls and women hope for their futures.

A Personal Story  

A woman from Freetown attended the cervical screening services in April 2023 for the second time. The first time was in July 2022 when she tested VIA (visual inspection with acetic acid) positive and was treated on the same day. She had learned about the screening services through Facebook messages posted by Milton, our community mobilizer. The second time she came for screening, the lesions had disappeared. In her excitement, she expressed that she was healed because she responded on time.

“I learned that World Hope is providing free screening services to women. Screening discovered that I was positive for cervical cancer. I was treated that same day. After six months, when I was screened again, the lesions had disappeared!” 

You Can Help 

If each woman in Sierra Leone is screened for cervical cancer just once in her lifetime, the death rate will be cut in half. With your help, more women can receive life-saving screening. Will you help more women experience opportunity, dignity and hope? 

Read more about how screening is impacting women’s lives in Sierra Leone and consider making a gift to help more women access Cervical Cancer Screening in Sierra Leone.

Volunteer surrounded by people

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