By PDG Karl Diekman, Health Education and Wellness Rotarian Action Group (HEWRAG) Board of Directors and member of Rotary Club of Woodland, California, USA
According to the World Health Organization, cervical cancer is a preventable disease, yet it is the most common cause of cancer in Africa in women. 34 out of 100,000 women are diagnosed with cervical cancer and 23 out of 100,000 women die from the disease every year in Africa.
This compares with 7 out of 100,000 women being diagnosed with cervical cancer and 3 out of 100,000 women dying of the disease every year in North America. In Africa, most women are diagnosed at an advanced stage of cancer with low chances of a successful treatment. The Health Education and Wellness Rotarian Action Group (HEWRAG) aims to help Rotary members learn how to advocate for and organize cost effective, low technology programs to address this significant health issue.
After our introduction to the Cervical Cancer Prevention Initiative in 2015, we set out to raise awareness among Rotary members around the world about the opportunities available to them to help their communities address cervical cancer prevention.
During 2016, our efforts were directed in large part to developing our familiarity with the disease and its prevention strategies. We began a series of presentations to Rotary members in their communities as well as at the Rotary International Convention in Seoul, Korea. By the end of 2016, we had developed confidence in our capabilities and believed that we could best serve Rotarians as they addressed cervical cancer prevention in their own communities.
In 2017, we expanded our reach and raised awareness through presentations made to Rotary clubs in Africa, USA, and the UK. At the Rotary International Convention in Toronto, during our annual meeting and in a later special session, cervical cancer prevention was front and center as it was in our display in the House of Friendship. Thousands of Rotarians from around world learned about our cervical cancer prevention efforts and of the special relationships we have developed with the American Cancer Society and others in the fight against cervical cancer.
In mid-September 2018, we traveled to Kenya keeping with the purpose of Rotarian Action Groups to assist Rotary members with developing projects. Co-Chair Sheila Hurst and I met with Rotarians in the Mount Kenya region to help them design a cervical cancer prevention project. The overarching goal of the planned project is to raise awareness of cervical cancer and to encourage women to receive periodic cervical exams
At a day-long planning session in Meru, we worked with local Rotarians to define project parameters and requirements. To provide additional support, we joined the Rotarians in meetings with Ministry of Health officials and other leaders in the Meru, Tharaka-Nithi, Embu, and Kirinyaga counties.
After compiling a report that outlined the various activities that would be components of a comprehensive cervical cancer prevention project, we shared a summary of how those project components fit within the conditions of cervical cancer found in Kenya. Local Rotarians began the process of developing a project that fit the specific needs of the communities. At the conclusion of the planning session, the Mount Kenya area Rotarians had outlined a path forward in their planning process. While in Kenya, we also met with members of the Rotary Club of Karen who are currently organizing a cervical cancer prevention project. District Governor Jeff Bamford, a member of Karen Rotary, is fully engaged in both projects.
After a week of meetings with Rotarians in Kenya, we traveled south from Nairobi to Lusaka, Zambia, where upscaling cervical cancer prevention programs was at the top of District Governor-elect Douglas Katengo’s agenda. For several days we met with Rotarians, Ministry of Health Officials, and the Medical Women of Zambia Association. We left in agreement about the nature of the upcoming work and the importance of working to prevent cervical cancer.
Overall, our time in Africa was well spent, and we left Africa with a great deal of pride in Rotary and its worldwide network of Rotarians dedicated to improving health worldwide.
The Health Education and Wellness Rotarian Action Group strives to promote good health and wellness through healthy lifestyle choices and disease prevention. The emphasis is on building awareness, promoting education, and providing information to help achieve and maintain good health and to utilize effective prevention in an integrated way. Learn more about the group or join today.