Ghani, a midwife for over 16 years, lost her mother to cervical cancer. Ghani might have lost her life to it too, but thanks to the early detection and treatment methods introduced by Association Togolaise pour le Bien-Etre Familial (ATBEF), she was successfully treated and has become a champion in the fight against cervical cancer.
Through an IPPF Japan Trust Fund project, ATBEF introduced visual inspection and treatment methods for cervical cancer prevention for the first time in Togo, filling a vital gap in the country’s health care system. In 2017, women were screened for early signs of cervical cancer and, if necessary, treated on the spot. The single visit approach was very successful and reduced the number of women who fail to return for treatment.
Ghani recalls the time when she received her diagnosis of precancerous lesions - abnormality in the cells of the cervix that might turn into cancer if not treated early enough. "I felt panic when I heard the result,” she said “because it reminded me of my mother's pain." But after the treatment, Ghani has taken a lead in the fight against cervical cancer. In her work as a midwife she now raises awareness and encourages women to get screened.
Ghani’s mother developed cervical cancer two years before the project began. Her treatment entailed going back and forth between the hospital and her village - a journey of 85km - but it was already too late. Being the eldest daughter of her family and a health worker, it was Ghani’s responsibility to accompany her mother. The distress of those visits has stayed with her: "You can't imagine how my mother suffered. It's hard to bear. At the last visit to the doctor, my mother told me: ‘My daughter, it’s finished for me’. We did everything we could. But sadly, two weeks later she died because the cancer was already at a terminal stage", she says with tears in her eyes.
The ATBEF mobile clinic arrived in Ghani’s hometown, Guerin-Kouka, for the screening campaign when Ghani’s family gathered for the traditional fortieth day ceremony after the death of her mother:
My sisters, my aunts and other women relatives all came to this ceremony. We all took the opportunity to get tested. Luckily there were no problems for the others.
Dr. Ekla Agba, the director of the Guérin-Kouka regional health centre where Ghani works, says, "She was treated on the spot and seen again in Lomé three months after treatment. One year later, she returned for her free check-up at ATBEF. This check-up is reassuring for her and for us. "
Having been treated, Ghani is an advocate for other women
hani continues to raise awareness on the need to be screened for early detection. "I give my own example and what happened to my mother to our clients at the health centre, because there are still women who don’t know about this cancer," she says.
According to Dr Bingo M'Bortché, who led the project at ATBEF, Ghani is an inspiration:
She reminds us why we’re running these campaigns - so that more women have the chance to benefit from these services.
Ghani knows how close she came to sharing her mother’s fate. "If that mobile clinic hadn’t come, I would not have known that I had already started to develop the disease that killed my mother. Maybe by now I would have started showing the signs of the disease. I would like to thank the people involved in this project that is saving lives," she says.
According to Santa Missahoé, head of the maternity ward at Guérin-Kouka regional health centre, Ghani's case has made them acutely aware of cervical cancer:
She is our big sister in this maternity ward. She always knows how to fight to save the lives of pregnant women. We are very happy that she was treated. Her case has led to all the women at the health centre being screened.
Ghani is inspiring women to access life-saving screening.
47-year old Ghani has been working as a midwife since 2003 and at the Guérin-Kouka regional health centre for the past 15 years. Her devotion to pregnant women and newborns has earned her the admiration of her managers and the trust of her clients.
A mother of four, Ghani’s warm, approachable manner, plus the fact she speaks four other dialects apart from her mother tongue, makes her extremely sought-after at the health centre.
But Ghani has not had an easy life. The eldest child of her family, she has sacrificed a lot for her brothers and sisters. She cared for her mother during her battle with terminal cancer. "It's a painful memory," she recalls.
Now she raises awareness of cervical cancer and encourages women to get screened early.
Published on 2 February 2021