Academics and healthcare professionals from Manchester and London traveled to Uganda this week (6 August) to push on with ambitious plans to try to help the country's Ministry of Health roll out cervical cancer screening to all women by 2020.
The team is travelling to the East African country, as part of the Ugandan Women's Health Initiative (UWHI), which runs a range of projects in women's health and has a major focus on prevention of cancer of the cervix.
The initiative, a partnership between Makerere University, Mulago Hospital, Hospice Africa Uganda and UCL (University College London) which now also involves The University of Manchester, has helped screen approximately 20,000 women since its inception in 2005 - estimated to have prevented over 1,000 cases of cervical cancer.
It has the technology and the expertise, along with the commitment of the Ministry of Health in Uganda to support the drive to create a national cervical cancer screening programme across 80 centres - if the required additional funding can be generated.
Cancer of the cervix is the biggest cause of death from cancer among women in the country with over 2,400 women dying from the disease, and over 3,500 diagnosed with it, each year. But UWHI co-chair and founder, University of Manchester Vice-President Professor Ian Jacobs said work by the initiative has shown health workers can successfully apply methods to prevent the cancer by simple and cheap screening methods. Professor Jacobs said: "Cervical cancer is a major cause of death and suffering in young women - but it is an entirely preventable disease with free cervical smears and vaccinations.
"However in Uganda, without action, cases will continue to rise. Rolling out screening to all women in Uganda, as we have in the UK, is a big challenge but it is deliverable, if we can continue the collaborative team effort to raise the funds required."
The UWHI has already set up and runs two cervical cancer screening centres in Kampala which are recognised centres of excellence in cervical screening in Uganda. It delivers activities through a small team of long-term Ugandan staff based in the country including a medical director, a programme manager and four nurse midwives.
The UK team visiting Uganda includes Shahina Mohamed, UWHI Coordinator and Operations Director at The University of Manchester's Faculty of Medical and Human Sciences; Marian Surgenor, Head of Global Health at the University Hospital of South Manchester and Anthony Silverstone, Consultant Gynaecologist from University College Hospital, London. They will have a series of meetings to discuss the next steps in the screening programme and have convened a conference for Ugandan nurses and midwives to help boost skills in women's health areas.
Miss Mohammed said: "In the past five years, many lives have been saved thanks to this initiative. It has focused on not just cervical cancer but helped provide training on how to resuscitate newborn babies and prevent mothers dying from haemorrhage at delivery. There have also been trials aiming to minimise the effects of brain injury in newborns.We want to prevent any more unnecessary deaths and suffering.
"The UWHI is a not for profit organisation and we are always seeking donations to help extend cervical screening."