World Cancer Day takes place every year on 4 February and is dedicated to raising the awareness of cancer and to encourage its prevention, detection and treatment. This year’s theme is “Close the care gap”. The campaign raises awareness about the lack of equity in cancer care and highlights barriers that exist for many people in accessing services and receiving the care they need. In this article, we highlight the work of IPPF’s Member Association in Nigeria, Planned Parenthood Federation of Nigeria (PPFN), in closing the care gap in the country.
While going about her business at the marketplace, Mrs. Olufemi came across information about cervical cancer screening services offered at the Planned Parenthood Federation of Nigeria (PPFN) clinic in Lagos. Curious, and wanting to take advantage of this opportunity, she decided to visit the clinic. Before doing so, she requested her friend Mrs. Emeka to accompany her, just in case the results were not good, and she would need a shoulder to lean on.
At the PPFN clinic, Mrs. Olufemi underwent screening for cervical cancer, and could not hide her joy when her results came back bearing good news. She was tested using the Visual Inspection of the Cervix with Acetic Acid (VIA) method, which is an inexpensive, simple test that is sensitive to detecting precancerous lesions, while providing instant results.
Motivated by her friend’s actions and the good results, Mrs. Emeka decided to get tested as well. Her results, however, revealed the presence of pre-cancerous lesions in her cervix. She was devastated.
Early cancer detection saves lives
Dr. Abubakar Okai Aku, a PPFN healthcare service provider reassured a distraught Mrs. Emeka by informing her that early detection and diagnosis of cervical cancer may offer favourable prognosis and improve survival. However, she was too overwhelmed with emotion to pay attention. Thankfully, her friend Mrs. Olufemi helped calm her down, wiping the tears off her cheeks, and comforting her.
Since her diagnosis was in the pre-cancerous stage, Dr. Abubakar referred Mrs. Emeka for cryotherapy treatment, also available at the PPFN Lagos clinic. According to Dr. Abubakar, cryotherapy is a minimally invasive treatment method that involves the freezing of the abnormal cells in the cervix, creating way for healthy cells to grow back. This approach, used by IPPF’s Member Associations that offer cervical cancer services is aligned with national protocols and makes use of existing local infrastructure. Dr. Abubakar adds that the intervention is replicable and scalable nationwide.
Mrs. Emeka immediately took up the cryotherapy treatment as advised by Dr. Abubakar. Three months later, she returned for a scheduled follow up visit at the clinic and all was found to be well. She had successfully responded to treatment.
Despite having precancerous lesions, Ms. Emeka did not develop cervical cancer because of early detection. She always thanks her friend Mrs. Olufemi for her role in helping her realize her risk for developing cervical cancer.
Today, Ms. Emeka is an advocate of cervical cancer screening in her community and uses all available opportunities to talk to women about the need for - and importance of - cervical cancer screening and respective treatment.
PPFN’s cervical cancer intervention programs
Between 2012–2017, PPFN was part of the Cervical Cancer Screening and Preventative Therapy (CCSPT) initiative, which was aimed at improving reproductive health outcomes for women. The project significantly contributed to reducing the growing cervical cancer burden in Nigeria.
By July 2017, a total of 1,145,525 women had been screened for cervical cancer, with 1,458 positive cases, of which 1,321 of them receiving cryotherapy treatment through PPFN healthcare service providers.
When the CCSPT project ended, cervical cancer services were integrated into regular PPFN services. In 2021, over 1 million women were screened for cervical cancer by IPPFAR’s member association in Nigeria.
In 2014, the Federal Ministry of Health set up a cervical cancer screening technical working group for cancer prevention to scale up cervical cancer screening in the country, of which PPFN is a member. PPFN works closely with various partners, among them the National Cancer Control Program of the Federal Ministry of Health to achieve its goals.
PPFN is committed to addressing the cancer burden in Nigeria, including the use of digital and other technology to increase people’s access to reproductive health services, and closing the equity gap in cancer care in the country.
Story by Dr. Abubakar Okai Aku and Maryanne W. Waweru.