DALA EXCLUSIVE: “Save The Cervix” – Audrey Akpevwe
January as most people may not know is the month for cervical cancer awareness. We may have heard of cervical cancer but we don’t exactly bother to research or try to get informed about it. Cancer is feared and seen as a death sentence. What we do not know is that some cancers are preventable like cervical cancer. Early detection is the key.
Dala discussed cervical cancer with Audrey Akpevwe of the AA foundation and we sure did learn a lot.
May we meet you?
My name is Odogu Audrey Akpevwe and I work with a foundation called United for Education Foundation. The foundation helps connect corporate employees with pupils in public primary schools as their mentors to educate and inspire them to be the best they can be. So far, we have impacted positively in over 50 schools in Lagos state and registered about 150 corporate employees as volunteers.
I also run a foundation ‘Audrey Akpevwe Foundation’ which started out as a campaign to raise awareness on cervical cancer.
Why Cervical Cancer?
I came to know about cervical cancer in 2011 when I attended an event where Optimal cancer care Foundation enlightened us on deadly cancers we should be aware of and be prepared for. I followed the activities of the foundation, watched them grow and acknowledged the positive impact they are making in the lives of many women. I began to sponsor the screening of a number of women and till date, I am responsible for sponsoring free screening for over a 100 women. I figured that if this was a deadly cancer that could be easily prevented but yet many people are not aware of, then I could do more by creating awareness on this disease. The women I sponsor already know about cervical cancer and were going to the center to get screened only to discover it was already paid for. What happens to the others who still do not know about cervical cancer?
How did you start the awareness campaign?
Cervical cancer is the second most deadly cancer that kills women but yet it is easily preventable. Every 2 out of 10 women is most likely to be diagnosed with cervical cancer. So, I studied more about cervical cancer and began to talk to people about cervical cancer and I discovered that still, the majority of women do not know about cervical cancer. In the course of this I realized that January is the month for cervical cancer awareness and since my birthday is in January I built something around it. While people come to celebrate me, I make sure I talk to them about cervical cancer, screening the vaccine etc
At the cancer center, they take the time to educate the women on cervical cancer and encourage them to tell their friends about it. So on Fridays when we have the free screening, we see women coming in as early as 6 am all the way from Ikorodu etc. It is usually those who cannot afford the screening or vaccine that takes this serious. If more learned people who have careers and can afford to go shopping should know about cervical cancer and take it seriously then the word should spread more.
Tell us about the AA Foundation
The Audrey Akpevwe dedicated to creating and Awareness on Cervical Cancer Screening and Treatment across the nation. At the AA foundation what we basically do is spread the good news. We do not necessarily want to be involved with money and all but if we have access to funds to create a bigger impact then we would definitely take it up. We started in January with awareness on cervical cancer.
We had a photo campaign #Savethecervix where I relied on my immediate network to be involved in the campaign and they too involved theirs and the campaign was a great success. We had a radio program and got a lot of callers even the TV interview had a great viewership. Even the TV crew got tickets for themselves, their friends etc
In February, we are going to be having the #IAmNotTooBusy Campaign with United for Education Foundation in a Teach-For-Change and Executive Volunteer Program. This is going to bring together executives and top management officials in various organizations volunteering to create impact in the lives of school children.
The thing about cancer is that we only get to hear about the bad side when so little can be done. We forget that there are preventive measures that can actually filter the sad stories we hear.
Who is susceptible to cervical cancer?
Basically every woman. Especially if you up to 18 and sexually active. Medical practitioners will advise you to know your sexual partner, keep a good hygiene, avoid smoking and do your screening. The symptoms mask the symptoms of many other illnesses. It could be spotting, vaginal discharge, pain during sex, pain in the lower belly etc. This is why screening is very important.
Cervical cancer is preventable, all you need to do is get screened and if your cells are infected all you need to take is a vaccine and you free from any scare for life.
Can you take a vaccine shot if your cells aren’t infected?
Of course yes. In many developed countries, the vaccine is given at a very young age- late teen to early twenties. World Health Organisation and other health bodies are trying to subsidize and include the vaccine to the regular immunization dose.
Once you are sexually active you have to do your screening. Even if you are not sexually active, every gynecologist would advise you that once you are 21 then you should do a Pap smear test every 8 months or once a year.
How exactly does one get screened?
There are three basic ways to get screened. The Pap smear, HPV test (Human PapilomaVirus which is the only virus found in cervical cancer cells) and Visual inspection.
How has the reception been so far from family and friends?
I am so happy I started with the birthday angle. I usually always throw a party so everybody was expecting to have a good time. So, the first year I started I was like this year there was going to be a party but after we are done with the foundation. Nobody showed up. People were asking why I was associating myself with cancer but over time I got to make them understand in the simplest way I could. This year the awareness drive is going to last for a month and we have tried not to paint it as a death sentence that is why the photo campaign are just fun pictures. We even have people willing to do a video shoot which may be released by the end of the month or February 4th which is world cancer day. Funny enough, there are more men (who don’t have a cervix) that are willing to collaborate with me.
People are beginning to ask questions and that is very encouraging.
Any challenge so far?
So far, I have been running this on personal funds. This year it has been really tough but I am grateful to GemStone Ultramax in Delta State who offered to sponsor some women for the screening exercise. For the past three years, we have been giving out tickets for free screening which is our way of giving back to these women. But there is so much more we can do, if we want to keep going on air, we have to buy airtime. Mobility issues and I may have to employ staff and so on.
We started in 2014 and getting people to listen to you beyond the word cancer and go for testing is also a challenge. Unavailability of the centers is also a headache and some that offer such services have fees that are not so affordable. The foundation I partner with optimal cancer care offers free screening on Friday and at a subsidized rate on other days of the week. The Pathfinder foundation in Abuja and Cross River also offers free screening.
I still go to Optimal cancer care foundation to re-educate and do research on new developments. To take this further we would have to educate people, possibly have ambassadors in various communities. This is the future of AA foundation. In as much as there is an overflow of information in the world today, people still do not know how to filter the truth from the lies or verify that an information is a truth.
AA foundation will grow to where people can come to us for information, advice, proper orientation and education.
How much does screening cost?
On an average screening costs about N2,500 which is affordable to some extent but people still do not know or explore this option. The vaccine costs about N14,000 – N16,000 and it is a three-shot dose within the space of a year. With this vaccine, you are covered for the rest of your life.
What should be the role of the Government or Corporate bodies in creating awareness for cervical cancer?
The Government should take care of her citizens. The corporate organization can assist the government and create a channel to reach out to people. Just imagine if all Government hospital staff, after checking your vitals asks you if you have been screened the same way they enlighten us about HIV. The Government should be actively involved in this so that we do not lose our women. It has just been NGO or maybe the wife of Government officials that attempt to make any impact. The more we talk about it, the more people will get involved. We do not have up to 20 screening centers in Nigeria.
Where do you see the AA foundation in the next five years?
I see us working in-line with the sustainable development goals, taking up causes and working towards creating a positive impact on the society. We also would love to work with corporate organizations to reach a wider audience and spread this news.
Cervical cancer is real. Early detection is key and it can be prevented.
You can reach Audrey via mail email@example.com
#Savethecervix #BeCancerAware #GetScreenedToday