Note: This blog was written on 2-18-12. I haven't had internet in a while, so I haven't been able to post blogs!
Peace Care is a nonprofit founded by Dr. Andrew Dykens, and its aim is to provide a better trained and more accessible health care workforce in all parts of the world. To read more about its mission and work, check out the Peace Care website (www.peacecare.org)! A couple of years ago, Andrew contacted the Peace Corps Senegal Country Director, and was connected with a former Saraya volunteer to help form a project with the Saraya Hospital. After talking with the community through various focus groups, it was decided that Peace Care would begin a cervical cancer prevention project. Cervical cancer is a significant problem in Senegal, and the World Health Organization reported that:
"Senegal has a population of 3.20 million women ages 15 years and older who are at risk of developing cervical cancer. Current estimates indicate that every year 1197 women are diagnosed with cervical cancer and 795 die from the disease. Cervical cancer ranks as the most frequent cancer among women in Senegal, and the most frequent cancer among women between 15 and 44 years of age. About 12.6% of women in the general population are estimated to harbor cervical HPV infection at a given time and 43.6% of invasive cervical cancers are attributed to HPVs 16 or 18.”
Last January, the Peace Care team trained a group of midwives to do the cervical cancer screening using visual inspection with acetic acid (VIA), and we’ve been leading trainings throughout the year to train more midwives and nurses in VIA. The plan was for Peace Care to come back after one year to do refresher courses in VIA and teach cryotherapy, which would freeze off the precancerous cells with nitrogen gas in the women who tested positive.
The Peace Care team, made up of two family medicine physicians, an OBGYN, two residents, a medical student, a communications professor, and a public health student, arrived at the end of January to work on the cervical cancer prevention project. Leah and Meera, Peace Corps volunteers in Saraya and Kedougou respectively, had been the leaders of the project on the Peace Corps end, and they have now transitioned me and Larocha, a volunteer in Salemata, into leading the project in the Kedougou region. To transition the project, Larocha and I were with the Peace Care team for the entirety of their two and a half weeks in Kedougou and Saraya.
The Peace Care Team and the volunteers led a refresher course for the midwives and nurses in VIA. Following the refresher course, we did cervical cancer screening in four villages in the Kedougou and Saraya health districts. During these screenings, the Team would observe how the midwives and nurses were interacting with the women being screened and how accurate they were diagnosing the cervices. Having the American doctors present for the refresher course and screenings really helped me further understand the procedure and the cervix. I was in a testing room with a physician, and she was able to explain the results of the tests to me in English, which never happens here! To learn the material in English instead of French made it much easier to more fully understand the process. Along with the screenings, the communications professor and public health student led focus groups in the community to find out what the community knows about cervical cancer and what the general consensus is about getting screened. Only one of the doctors who came speaks French, so the volunteers, including myself, were acting as translators in French, Malinke, and Pulaar. I went around with the Communications team in various places and acted as a French and Malinke translator.
The doctors had planned to teach cryotherapy during their visit, but unfortunately we had some equipment problems. We received a liquid nitrogen tank from Dakar instead of a pressurized nitrogen gas tank, which is what we needed for the procedure. The Peace Care team will most likely be returning in October to teach cryotherapy. We had many meetings with hospital doctors and midwives to plan for the coming year. Larocha and I will help organize another midwife VIA training in May, and we’ll continue to help in cervical cancer screenings in the region. In October, we’re planning to do a mass screening campaign to increase the number of women being tested. We may also begin to expand this project into the neighboring region of Tambacounda.
I learned a lot in the couple weeks I spent with the Peace Care team. It was exhausting, but I feel that we are working on a very worthwhile project. Talking with the doctors also got me very excited about a future in global health! I’m planning to apply to grad school this year, so it was great to get advice on different programs!
After being away from site for a couple weeks, it felt great to come back to Nafadji. I miss Sira a lot, but I’ve been having a lot of fun with the other kids on the compound. For Valentines Day, I taught them how to make paper hearts, and we made Valentine’s Day cards for each other. I’ve also started making word search puzzles for the middle school students, and they love them! I’ve made some in English and some in Malinke, and the middle schoolers have competitions to see who can find the most words. Whoever wins gets a piece of candy!
It’s salad season! Women are growing lettuce in their gardens, and salad is becoming a common snack on the compound. My family makes a delicious peanut dressing, and I’m hooked! It’s so nice to see some vegetables for a change. Fily took me out to her garden, and I was amazed at the rows of garden plots the women have created near the river. I’m hoping the lettuce keeps on coming, because I’m getting used to having a salad snack after lunch now!
The two English teachers at the middle school recently approached me and invited me to be involved in the English club they’re starting. I was impressed with their ideas for the club, and they have some fun ways of teaching English, involving lots of interactive games. Today is our first club meeting! I’m also going to be having my second Care Group meeting tomorrow, so lots coming up!