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January is Cervical Cancer Awareness Month

, by Meg Bertram, CGH and Adetoun Olateju, PRRR

Mmakgomo Mimi Raesima, MD, NCCPP Programme Coordinator (left) giving a presentation at a Women’s Health Fair on cervical cancer screening in Gaborone, Botswana (September 2015).

Cervical cancer[1], the fourth most common cancer in women worldwide, is the leading cause of cancer mortality among women aged 15-44, in the Republic of Botswana. In 2012, the incidence of cervical cancer in Botswana was 29.0 cases of every 100,000 women, with a mortality rate of 23.1 of every 100,000 women.

As a catalyst for reducing the global cancer burden through coordination, collaboration, and communication with a diverse range of international stakeholders, National Cancer Institute’s Center for Global Health supports global activities to advance global cancer research, build expertise, and leverage resources across nations to address the challenges of cancer and reduce cancer deaths worldwide. Towards these aims, NCI has partnered with Pink Ribbon Red Ribbon, a global organization founded on public-private partnerships dedicated to saving women’s lives by advancing prevention, screening, and treatment for breast and cervical cancer in sub-Saharan Africa and Latin America.

In 2012, the Government of Botswana welcomed Pink Ribbon Red Ribbon and launched its national strategic plan for cervical cancer prevention and control, the 2012–2016 National Cervical Cancer Prevention Programme (NCCPP) Five-Year Comprehensive Prevention and Control Strategy, to combat the rising epidemic. With Pink Ribbon Red Ribbon and other donor support, the Government of Botswana’s Ministry of Health (MoH) introduced a HPV vaccination campaign and an expanded screening for and treatment of cervical precancer, using a single visit (“See-and-Treat”) approach.

At the Ministry’s request, NCI provided technical assistance in performing a mid-term evaluation of the strategy last summer. Upon arriving in Gaborone, Botswana, Mmakgomo Mimi Raesima, MD, the NCCPP Programme Coordinator told me that “We Run” -- and did we ever! During my three-month tenure, the National Cervical Cancer Prevention Programme oversaw the National Launch of the “See-and-Treat” approach for cervical cancer, the roll-out of the second dose of the national HPV vaccination campaign, the transition of implementing partners, and site visits to Gaborone, Francistown, Mahalapye, Maun, and Lobatse See-and-Treat clinics. Since September, the mid-term review’s findings have been used to review the strategic approach and make appropriate adjustments to the programme quality and impact.

Botswana’s seen tremendous success since 2012. More than 68,000 girls, aged 9-13 years, have received the first dose of HPV vaccination and thousands of women, ages 30-49 years old have been screened for precancerous lesions. Based on the government’s high level of commitment to this effort, the programme's staff dedication, and support garnered from partners, the strategy will go a long way to save women's lives in Botswana.

[1] Tweetable fact perhaps: Cervical cancer, caused by human papillomavirus (HPV), is one of the world’s most deadly, but easily preventable, forms of cancer for women. Cervical cancer disproportionately affects the poorest, most vulnerable women, with the vast majority of deaths occurring in low and middle income countries. Each year, more than 528,000 women develop cervical cancer and about 266,000 women die from the disease.


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