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June 12, 2017

Addressing the Second Most Diagnosed Cancer in the Women of Equatorial Guinea


For many public health specialists, cancer is not considered a priority for Africa. The focus for most health projects is on infectious diseases, which are considered easier to address, with interventions that have a high and immediate impact. This notion is based on the concept that infectious diseases are the main killers on the continent. This, however, neglects the fact that cancer and other non-communicable diseases have been emerging and are rapidly changing the epidemiologic profiles of many African countries.

This reality constitutes a new and increasing burden for African governments, with health systems already overwhelmed by the prevalence of infectious diseases and rapidly growing populations. In this scenario, provision of health services for women is rarely a priority, despite the evident need for it. Cervical-uterine cancer (CuC) is not well-known, and governments, communities, and even health personnel are not aware of the growing problem it represents.

CuC constitutes not only a health challenge, but a social dilemma. Worldwide, CuC is the fourth-most common cause of death from cancer in women. It targets mainly women of child-bearing age, who are not only the most vulnerable to this cancer, but are also core members of their families. The impact of this illness is multiplied in rural families, where the role of women is crucial for the care and wellbeing of children. The real health and social impact of CuC has not been properly measured, due mostly to the lack of modern health information systems in most countries and the lack of interest from governments and local health leadership.

Looking to address this growing challenge in Equatorial Guinea (EG), Medical Care Development International (MCDI), with the support of Noble Energy and the Government of Equatorial Guinea, is implementing a Cervical Cancer Screening and Treatment Project in response to the CuC challenge. The project has two main objectives: (i) to build national capacity to respond to the growing CuC needs and (ii) to raise awareness of the illness, and increase community knowledge on prevention and early diagnosis and treatment.

The project began its training activities in 2016 by developing skills for health teams in the two main cities of Bata and Malabo. Local doctors and nurses received training on how to conduct CuC screening, combining the Pap smear and acetic acid techniques, identifying pre-cancerous lesions which, when treated, can prevent the development of invasive cancer.

The project provided the equipment and the supplies needed for the first two consulting rooms, which are open and fully functional at the regional hospitals of Malabo and Bata. Presently, two teams of doctors, nurses, and laboratory technicians are screening between 50-60 women per day, and the demand for services is growing in other cities throughout the country.

Alongside diagnosis and early treatment, the project has developed a community education strategy. This strategy is based on training communicators who deliver health messages to their communities. These messages are focused on promoting attendance to the screening sites, providing information on warning signs, and creating awareness on the need for prevention and early treatment.

During this first phase, the project aims to conduct 6,000 screenings in both sites and promote awareness in a target population of 50,000 women. Working based on the lessons learned from this initial stage, MCDI, with the support of donors and the government, intends to extend the project to new cities and areas of the country, always focusing on providing quality early diagnosis and treatment, as well as creating community awareness and promoting positive behavior change towards fighting the illness.

Photo: Female patients at the Bata Consulting Room awaiting the visual inspection with acetic acid (VIA) procedure





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