Still several months from taking their Hippocratic oaths and receiving their medical degrees, Eleanor Chung and Chava Kahn, fourth-year medical students at Albert Einstein College of Medicine of Yeshiva University, are already making a world of difference for countless women with cervical cancer in Uganda. The two Einstein students are currently working with staff from the organization PINCC (Prevention International: No Cervical Cancer) to help combat cervical cancer, which is the greatest cause of cancer deaths among Ugandan women.
In assisting PINCC staff, the two Einstein students will help administer the "see-and-treat" screening program, which offers a timely, cost-effective approach for identifying and treating pre-cancerous lesions, as well as for detecting more serious cases in need of more rigorous treatment. They also will assist in training local health care workers in the techniques involved in doing "see-and-treat" screenings. (Both students assisted PINCC during a summer 2007 elective in Nicaragua and enlisted the organization to bring their vital screening program to Uganda.)
"A lack of access to testing currently plays a large role in cervical cancer's prevalence in developing nations, and it's often cost-prohibitive to have the equipment and laboratories needed to conduct the testing. The 'see-and-treat' approach that PINCC uses does not involve Pap tests or expensive equipment and therefore can be administered in a timely, cost-effective way," says Ms. Chung.
She adds, "In Uganda, there are only 50 gynecologists available to care for all the nation's women, and, as a result, many women die unnecessarily each year from cervical cancer. Further compounding the problem is the fact that, in Uganda, the discussion of women's health issues -- particularly as they relate to a woman's reproductive system -- has largely been taboo."
Ms. Chung and Ms. Kahn first visited Uganda in October/November 2006, as part of the Einstein's Global Health Fellowship for fourth-year medical students. During this initial visit, they noticed that there was no routine screening for cervical cancer, so they established education and screening programs to address this need.
Both Einstein students followed up their initial visit to Uganda with a return trip in August/ September 2007. With help from Ugandan physician Dr. Michael Baganizi and local health care workers, they organized meetings at which they provided education about cervical cancer to local high schools students, staff at Kisoro Hospital, nursing school students, church groups, and women in local villages. They then took steps to help establish a cost-effective cervical cancer-screening program, which is now being administered in conjunction with PINCC.
Ms. Kahn notes, "During the week that screenings were provided, more than 1,000 women turned out, with only half receiving screenings due to lack of time and resources. Of those screened, 50 biopsies were done, with 17 women receiving treatment for precancerous lesions. In addition, three women were diagnosed with advanced cervical cancer, all of which could have been prevented if regular screenings had been available."
These Einstein students, who each took a year off to conduct global health research, are demonstrating that, even though still learning their chosen profession, they can be catalysts for change that improves - and in some instance saves - the lives of women a world away, with implications for women worldwide.
Posted on: Tuesday, February 12, 2008