When we arrive at Rebecca Asiimwe’s shop in the outskirts of Fort portal town, she welcomed us with a beaming smile; one could not tell what the HIV positive, widowed mother of two boys had gone through to afford such happiness. Rebecca survived cervical cancer due to early detection and treatment.
“I used to feel a lot of pain in my lower abdomen and had a bloody discharge which I didn’t understand… I didn’t know I was in the early stages of cervical cancer. I shared with my friends about it and they said I should test for STIs like syphilis or gonorrhea. When I went to the health facility for checkup the STI results were all negative but nothing was diagnosed for my condition. I went to many other health centers but none could tell me what the problem was…” a visibly upset Rebecca narrated her ordeal.
“My luck changed one day when my friends and I were invited for a workshop where Reproductive Health Uganda (RHU) officers presented about cervical cancer and the signs that show that one has cervical cancer or is in the beginning stages of the cancer.”
“The key message from the workshop was; ‘to prevent cervical cancer one has to test early enough’. Given the signs and symptoms I was already experiencing, I made a decision there and then to go for the screening; and the fact that I am HIV positive, I was at a higher risk of contracting the HPV virus which causes cervical cancer.” She continued
“I was scared for a moment because I thought the screening was a painful procedure. We however were counseled by the RHU officer called Irene (the RHU service provider in Fort portal) who explained how the whole procedure is done. After I was given the results, I was extremely terrified; I thought that was the end of my life and I was going to leave my sons all alone. But despite all the fear, I was told it was the early stages, and still treatable. I was then given an appointment to go to the RHU clinic in Fort portal for my treatment. After my 3 months review, I was found free of any signs of early cervical cancer.”
“I commend RHU’s efforts in reaching our women with services especially in regard to cervical cancer. In the last month alone in partnership with RHU we screened over 280 women and found 26 women positive with the HPV virus which causes cancer and these were immediately treated. The biggest challenge we are facing is that many women come for treatment when it is already too late and very little can be done for them. I therefore request that more sensitization and outreach camps be done in the communities to reach more women especially in the rural areas” says Dr. Anitha Bigirwa, the clinical care coordinator ART clinic SUSTAIN project-Fort portal.
After this experience Rebecca has since become an ambassador to other women in the fight against cervical cancer. “I encourage women especially my friends who are HIV positive to go for cervical cancer screening. There are many announcements that RHU makes to encourage women to go for screening and I always tell my neighbors and friends to go. So far I have encouraged ten (10) women mostly commercial sex workers who have gone to RHU for screening. However, more sensitization needs to be done especially on the misconceptions surrounding the screening process for women to know how important this is to their health, their lives and their families.”