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How Upbringing Thwarts Cervical Cancer Prevention in Kenya: Catholic Health Advocate

Veronicah Mwangi, Founder, Lady Hope Wellness Institute. Credit: Lady Hope Wellness Institute

The fight against cervical cancer continues to suffer from the African upbringing that teaches young girls to guard the privacy of their bodies even when they need “intrusive” medical tests, a Catholic health advocate in Kenya has said.

Veronica Mwangi, the founder of Lady Hope Wellness Institute, a charitable health organization that is based at St. Catherine of Siena Parish of Kenya’s Catholic Archdioceses of Nairobi told ACI Africa that women and girls shy away from cervical cancer tests because they disregard privacy.

“Girls are taught from a tender age to always guard the private parts of their bodies and to never allow anyone to touch them. Even after they are grown women, they shy away from medical examinations that they think are too intrusive in nature,” Ms. Mwangi said in the Wednesday, January 26 interview with ACI Africa.

She said that the fight against cervical cancer requires awareness, especially in schools, to encourage young girls to embrace medical tests as a way of preventing cancer.

The founder of Lady Hope Wellness Institute spoke to ACI Africa ahead of a Cancer Awareness and Fundraising Walk that has been organized to mark the cervical cancer awareness month at the Kenyan Catholic Parish on Saturday, January 29.

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Ms. Mwangi said that the 10-kilometer walk that is set to begin at 0800 hours Kenyan time is aimed at raising awareness in the community on prevention, control and management of cervical cancer through early and routine cancer screening “to curb its heavy financial burden on our country's economy.”

“We also wish to enhance the quality of life for the poor cancer affected in the community by uplifting them for continuous specialized treatment and eventually re-establishing them economically at the family level as they become our grassroots cancer screening advocacy ambassadors,” she said.

Registered in 2010, Lady Hope Wellness Institute is providing care to 100 patients with various types of cancers, most of them colon, cervical and breast cancer.

Ms. Mwangi started the organization after observing the challenges that cancer patients were facing, key among them financial and loneliness after they were rejected by their families.

The Kenyan cancer advocate quit her government job in 2000 and with the help of her husband and consultations with a medical doctor, she set up a medical laboratory that conducted various medical tests in 2002.

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It is while interacting with patients at the medical lab that Ms. Mwangi discovered that women shy away from tests they considered intrusive. She concluded that little was being done in terms of providing reproductive health resources to women and that the situation was hurting the fight against cervical cancer.

Her weekly visits to Kenya’s Kenyatta National Hospital (KNH), one of the country’s largest hospitals that offers cancer screening, diagnosis and treatment services also unearthed some of the challenges that cancer patients go through.

“Many patients in the cancer ward were very lonely. I learnt that some of them had been abandoned by their family members,” Ms. Mwangi told ACI Africa, and added, “Cancer is a very expensive disease. The battle with cancer is very long and draining. Many times, family members give up and the patient is left to continue the battle alone.”

She started Lady Hope Wellness Institute to provide a temporary home to needy cancer patients from the countryside who travel to KNH in Kenya’s capital Nairobi for treatment and lack accommodation.

At the institute, cancer patients undergoing treatment at KNH are provided with shelter, food and their other basic necessities. They are also facilitated to travel daily to the hospital for their medical appointments. The Institute also pays for the patients’ National Health Insurance Fund (NHIF), the country’s medical scheme.

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Ms. Mwangi says that her upbringing in a catholic family is one of the reasons that the organization she founded is Church-based.

“I feel it is important to align matters of health with religion. I know how important faith is to an ailing person. Sometimes, the love of God is all the patients have after they have been abandoned by family,” she said.

The organization invites Priests who facilitate seminars and counseling sessions in the patients’ support group meetings. The organization’s annual psychosocial sessions are also facilitated by Catholic Priests.

According to the health advocate, the Catholic Church in Kenya has enough resources to create awareness on early prevention of cervical cancer.

“The Catholic Church is a very well-organized group of children, women and the youth. These groups can be used as platforms to create cancer awareness especially among young women,” she told ACI Africa.

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Some of the challenges that Lady Hope Wellness Institute faces is the lack of funding and inadequate support by the national health insurer.

“We run a variety of activities to support cancer patients and all of them require financing. Most of the patients are humble farmers and small-scale business people and we try to equip them with resources to start small ventures to support themselves financially. At the moment, we are struggling to get funding for these activities,” Ms. Mwangi said.

She added, “Our appeal to the government is to make NHIF all-inclusive so as it covers all costs related to cancer treatment. While we struggle to remit the funds for our patients to the medical scheme, it doesn’t cover consultation costs and some other costs.”

Meanwhile, the charity walk that the organization has organized on January 29 is to be held in partnership with parishioners of St Catherine of Siena, local leaders, National Bank of Kenya, and Mombasa Bound Buses, a Kenyan bus company.

The National Movement of Catholic Students, youths from various institutions and many other “friends of the project” have also been invited to participate in the charity walk.

“We call upon you to support in coverage of this event as we pass the message that the key to the cancer fight lies with our youth and also call upon the wider community to adopt the culture of preventive healthcare,” Ms. Mwangi appealed in her interview with ACI Africa January 26.