The TogetHER Interview Revisited: Elizabeth Mbuthia, Co-Founding Member of Women 4 Cancer
October 20, 2021
In the months following the emergence of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020, TogetHER reached out to leaders in global cervical cancer control to discuss challenges and provide their perspectives on COVID-19’s immediate impact on programs to safeguard women’s health in low-resource settings. The full set of interviews represents a wide breadth of voices, from global multilaterals to community-based efforts.
The pandemic and the world’s response have evolved in the past year, from the release and inequitable distribution of COVID-19 vaccines, to the emergence of the Delta variant, to a number of rolling regional outbreaks. The past year has also seen the world commit to the global elimination of cervical cancer – the first ever strategy to eliminate a cancer – and the release of new World Health Organization guidelines emphasizing HPV testing as the preferred method of screening.
TogetHER asked a select few participants in last year’s interviews to revisit the topic and provide perspectives on how their own work has changed in the last year. This installment of this retrospective series features Elizabeth Mbuthia, Co-Founder and Member of Women 4 Cancer. Header and headshot credit: Women 4 Cancer
Since this time last year (October 2020), what impact has the COVID-19 pandemic had on your programs, specifically cervical cancer prevention services (HPV vaccination, cervical screening, treatment or other follow up)?
Cervical cancer prevention efforts in Kenya faced a major setback at the onset of the pandemic and despite the slow return to normalcy, there are still traces of this setback. As an organization that is directly involved in all the prevention efforts, we have experienced reduced funding for cervical cancer response, especially for community screening and treatment. Every available resource is still committed to the fight against COVID-19 and efforts towards economic recovery. Our programs depend on mass screening, and so we are forced to reduce the numbers we reach out to as we observe the prevention measures against COVID-19. In organizing these outreaches, we still have some women having bits of fear and anxiety of infection, leading to low turnout for both screening and vaccination.
“We have intensified our efforts to train community champions and healthcare workers on community mobilization for cervical cancer screening and HPV vaccination.
Photo credit: Women 4 Cancer
How have your programs evolved to sustain services and/or get them back on track as it has become clear that COVID-19 will continue to have an impact? Are there shifts you have made in programming that have actually resulted in greater impact?
We have reduced the number of women we target for screening so that we can manage to control the crowds and, in turn, reduce chances of infection from COVID-19. We have also intensified our efforts to train community champions and healthcare workers on community mobilization for cervical cancer screening and HPV vaccination. This strategy helps with demand generation both within the community and at the health facilities. Champions remind the community that it is still important to get screened and vaccinated despite the ongoing pandemic.
In collaboration with the Ministry of Health and other partners, we have a developed a Community Health Volunteers (CHVs) Curriculum for cervical cancer prevention and control. This will be key in building the capacity of the CHVs to effectively respond to the community-related needs for cervical cancer.
What has the last year taught you about your work?
The importance of working remotely and developing skills in cloud computing as well as proper planning and risk management in running screening programs. With a proper plan in place, it is easier to manage the risks. With proper risk mitigation strategies, we are able to counter the shocks and uncertainties that come with the ever-changing COVID-19 protocols.
“With a proper plan in place, it is easier to manage the risks and with a proper risk mitigation strategies, we are able to counter the shocks and uncertainties that come with the ever-changing COVID-19 protocols.“
Photo credit: Women 4 Cancer
What has kept you and your team motivated during the past year?
Our vision and goal. We set up our targets to achieve through the year and we innovate on whichever ways works for us to meet them. The belief that all things will normalize and we will resume to the new normal was a plus for us.
Elizabeth Mbuthia, a Co-founder member of Women 4 Cancer, sits on the Board in the dual role of Board Secretary and Head of Programs. She is a nurse by profession with a passion to eliminating cervical cancer.