Saving Lives Through Advocacy: Women living with HIV are at the forefront of raising awareness for transformative cervical cancer prevention in Tanzania
23 November 2023
Cervical cancer claims more lives among women in Tanzania than any other illness.
Each year, approximately 10,241 women between the ages of 15 and 44 are diagnosed with cervical cancer, and 6,525 lose their lives as a consequence from delayed diagnosis. Studies suggest that women living with HIV are up to six times more likely to develop this cancer than those without the virus. UN Women Tanzania works with partners and local networks of women living with HIV on a project to promote awareness and advocate for cervical cancer prevention, screening and treatment among low-income women and those living with HIV.
In the Kagera region of Tanzania, Lili*, a 57-year-old mother of two living with HIV, experienced unexplained pain and discomfort for years. Like many women in her community, she had never heard of cervical cancer or its symptoms.
"I had all the symptoms but thought they were just part of my HIV condition. When they worsened, I self-medicated, thinking it was just an infection," she said.
For Lili, an initiative to promote cervical cancer screening implemented by UN Women and the Network of Women Living with HIV not only came at the right time but saved her life.
For Lili, a lifesaving opportunity arrived when she learned about a cervical cancer screening initiative implemented by UN Women and the Network of Women Living with HIV. The project, implemented in the Kagera and Mwanza regions of Tanzania, trained community volunteers, including women living with HIV, to raise awareness about cervical cancer effectively.
Lili heard about the project through one of the members of the network and was selected to participate in cervical cancer advocacy training. Filled with questions and doubts during the training, Lili requested to be screened.
After attending advocacy training through the project, Lili underwent screening. " After I was diagnosed, I immediately received treatment. This made me realize that many women in my village might be facing similar challenges without even knowing it. I was motivated to spread the word so others wouldn't suffer as I did," she shared.
Following the training, the Network of Women Living with HIV initiated community mobilization campaigns, utilizing different methods to orient their communities on the early signs of cervical cancer, treatment, HPV Vaccines, and the importance of regular screening.
“In just a few months, we were able to visit about 250 homes in five wards of Bukoba district, educating families on cervical cancer. We also worked with local radio stations and went to all public events making sure we reached as many women as we could in Kagera,” said Lili.
The project specifically aims to awareness of women and young women living with HIV, this crucial information within their communities for early prevention. Due to these advocacy efforts, over 1,000 women have now undergone cervical cancer screenings.
Speaking about the project's impact, Ms. Neema Kyamba, the coordinator of maternal and child health in the Kagera region, said that many women now have a deeper understanding of cervical cancer and have become more proactive about their health. This has led to an increase in the number of women seeking screening services, especially women and girls living with HIV.
Hali*, another beneficiary of the project echoed this sentiment, "Participating in this project has made me more health-conscious. I now go for regular screenings and check-ups, setting an example for others in my community."
* Names have been changed to protect the privacy of the individual.
UN entities involved in this initiative
United Nations Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women