PCI has partnered with Pink Ribbon Red Ribbon and the Zambian Defence Force (ZDF) to offer cervical cancer screenings and testing for HIV/AIDS, syphilis, gonorrhea, and chlamydia. These extensive services are offered to community members living in or around ZDF bases in the country, establishing PCI as a leader in effective, community-based health programming. 

By: Bill Steiger, Managing Director, Pink Ribbon Red Ribbon

On August 6, 2014, the George W. Bush Presidential Center, the White House and the U.S. Department of State co-hosted a day-long forum entitled, “Investing in Our Future at the U.S. – Africa Leaders Summit.”  Held at the Kennedy Center, in Washington, D.C., the meeting brought First Spouses from across the African continent together with 300 leaders from the public, private and non-profit worlds to discuss public-private partnerships in education, health, agriculture and economic development.

One of the sessions during the forum focused on Pink Ribbon Red Ribbon® as an example of a successful partnership that is achieving results and impact in Africa. A short video that introduced Pink Ribbon Red Ribbon to the audience featured Evelyn, a 34-year-old mother of six from Zambia diagnosed with Stage Two cervical cancer.  Evelyn first learned of her condition when she attended a screening opportunity sponsored by Project Concern International (PCI), a Pink Ribbon Red Ribbon partner, at a Zambian Defence Force (ZDF) facility near her home.  With funding from the U.S. President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief as part of Pink Ribbon Red Ribbon support, PCI offers screening through visual inspection with acetic acid (VIA) and cryotherapy for treatment of pre-cancerous cervical lesions at and in communities around ZDF bases throughout the country.  At the time of the video’s screening in Washington, PCI was assisting Evelyn to gain access to advanced care at the Cancer Diseases Hospital in Lusaka.

We learned last week that Evelyn passed away on August 17.  PCI staff was planning to bring her to Lusaka to begin radiotherapy on August 23, but she succumbed to her illness before she could make the trip!

I was fortunate to meet Evelyn in Zambia in late June, when she graciously hosted our two filmmakers and me in her home, in a small, rural village about two hours by car from the town of Kabwe, in Central Province.  With great courage and dignity, she sat down with us to tell her story, surrounded by her mother and children.  As you can see in the video she was afraid, but she had resolved to pursue treatment.  A month later, she was dead.

Evelyn represents tens of thousands of other women afflicted by cervical cancer across Africa.  The disease is now the number-one cancer killer of women on the continent:  More than 93,000 African women develop cervical cancer each year, and an estimated 57,000 die from it—like Evelyn.

That’s right:  We have to multiply Evelyn’s tale 57,000 times to understand the scope of the tragedy that cervical cancer is inflicting in Africa just in 2014.  Like Evelyn, most of the women who lose their lives to cervical cancer on the continent are in their child-bearing and productive years.  According to the Population Reference Bureau’s 2014 World Population Data Sheet, the typical woman in sub-Saharan Africa has 4.7 children

[1].  That means that cervical cancer is leaving an average of 268,000 African children without a mother every year.  PCI is generously enrolling Evelyn’s sons and daughters in the program for orphans and vulnerable children it assists the ZDF to implement, but the help will be only a partial substitute for their mother’s care and love.  Many of the boys and girls who lose their mothers to cervical cancer in Zambia and around the region do not receive any support at all beyond what their already-strapped families, mostly grandmothers, can provide.

By agreeing to appear in a video for Pink Ribbon Red Ribbon, Evelyn has given a voice to these thousands of women and their families.  Her story shows us that the impact of cervical cancer is not just on individual women, but has far-reaching effects on the lives of children, communities and even countries.  The memory of Evelyn should also give all us a renewed sense of urgency to commit ourselves to eliminate this preventable disease:  It is because of women like Evelyn that Pink Ribbon Red Ribbon continues to champion this cause every day.  We hope you will, too.

This article was first published on Pink Ribbon Red Ribbon Blog