February 2012

"On this World Cancer Day, we celebrate the remarkable progress in prevention, detection, care and treatment of cancer. Overall, treatment success has increased dramatically, with survival rates in high income countries like the U.S. now reaching over 90 percent for certain cancers such as breast, prostate, and testicular for patients with access to treatment. But this life-giving progress has yet to reach most of the world's people, who live in developing countries, where over half of new cases and nearly two thirds of all cancer deaths occur. Unforgivably, there is a huge "cancer divide" between rich and poor.

This year's World Cancer Day theme set by the Union for International Cancer Control (UICC) -- "together it is possible"-- calls on all individuals, organizations and governments to do their part to reduce premature deaths from cancers by 25 percent by 2025.

But there have been four myths that have held back cancer care and control in developing countries. On this World Cancer Day, let's start a global pink revolution to replace the myths with truths and the complacency with action."

"Are family planning methods safe?” wondered Mutombo, a community health worker at the Kawama Village Health Center, in the Democratic Republic of Congo’s Katanga Province. {Photo credit: MSH.}Photo credit: MSH.

Cross-posted on USAID's IMPACT blog.

“Don’t they contain a poison?” he added, directing his question to Isaac Chishesa, a community mobilization specialist with USAID’s Democratic Republic of Congo-Integrated Health Project (DRC-IHP).

Tough question! One Isaac was not expecting, at least not within a discussion among trained community health workers.

An experienced community health professional, Isaac responded with a smile and said, “Thank you, my friend, for sharing your concern,” affirming the participants’ right to ask questions. “Family planning methods are safe,” he reassured the group. “Based on international quality standards, each method is required to go through extensive testing before it is made available to the public.”

The faces of Mutombo and his peers lit up. They sighed, a collective sigh of relief, and burst out laughing to relieve some of the tension. They all recognized that even though they were dedicated to bringing about improvements in health behaviors, they, like most of their fellow community members, harbored misconceptions and rumors about family planning.

Women learning about family planning at Bikone Health Center II, Western Uganda. {Photo credit: MSH.}Photo credit: MSH.

This was my first trip to Africa working with a development agency. While I had visited the African continent for personal trips previously, arriving in this context felt different. I was immediately aware of the challenges Uganda is facing. From the crumbling road infrastructure and high incidence of traffic accidents in Kampala, to the mobile phone networks that are pretty reliable while internet access is often spotty, to the prevalence of street children --- I can for the first time see what my local colleagues are up against.

I felt a bit overwhelmed in the first few days. Is there any way we can address all these challenges? Can we make a difference?

Visiting communities and health centers in Kampala, Eastern and Western Uganda -- and seeing first-hand the impact MSH is having across the country -- quickly re-inspired me.

I had the pleasure of meeting a particularly passionate and committed Clinical Officer, Rodger Rwehandika, at Bikone Health Center II in Western Uganda. As a health center II, Bikone is an outpatient facility, but the staff of the facility can also conduct outreach programs to educate and serve the community.

Rodger and his two staff facilitate health education programs at the local schools and also host youth-friendly programs on using condoms.

Lelo PHCU staff treat the young patient. {Photo credit: MSH.}Photo credit: MSH.

"Diktor! Diktor!" The urgent call for a doctor came from several school boys who had run to the facility. I glanced over and saw a boy about 12 years old tensely sit down in the waiting patio at Lelo Primary Health Care Unit in South Sudan.

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