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Helping Women in Sierra Leone

Helping Children Worldwide launched Women’s Cancer Screening in Sierra Leone.

HCW Medical Mission in Bo, Sierra Leone.

HCW Medical Mission in Bo, Sierra Leone. Photo Contributed

Helping Children Worldwide piloted a breast and cervical cancer screening program at Mercy Hospital in Bo, Sierra Leone. Nearly $45,000 worth of supplies and equipment were donated and/or loaned by Cooper Surgical, Bard Surgical, Mary Washington Hospital, Cross Link International, Global Public Health/Sonosite and Clinical Pathology Laboratories. A team of doctors and nurses, traveled to Sierra Leone for a week long medical mission, included Dr. Mary Beth Cantwell-Anesthesiologist at Fairfax Anesthesiology Associates, Dr. Kirsten Edmiston-Medical Director at Inova Cancer Services, Dr. Cynthia Horner-Family Medical Doctor at Herndon Family Medicine, and Dr. Carol McIntosh-Physician Ob/Gyn at Inova Fairfax Hospital Fairfax.

With the support of several generous donations of medical supplies, Helping Children Worldwide piloted a breast and cervical cancer screening program, previously unavailable to women in the region at Mercy Hospital in Bo, Sierra Leone. Nearly $45,000 worth of supplies and equipment were donated and/or loaned by Cooper Surgical, Bard Surgical, Mary Washington Hospital, Cross Link International, Global Public Health/ Sonosite and Clinical Pathology Laboratories.

THE MEDICAL SUPPLIES were transported and used by a team of doctors and nurses which included: Dr. Mary Beth Cantwell-Anesthesiologist at Fairfax Anesthesiology Associates, Dr. Kirsten Edmiston-Medical Director at Inova Cancer Services, Dr. Cynthia Horner-Family Medical Doctor at Herndon Family Medicine, and Dr. Carol McIntosh-Physician Ob/Gyn at Inova Fairfax Hospital Fairfax. The team visited Sierra Leone in May for a week long medical mission, with the goal of saving women’s lives.

Cervical cancer is the most common cause of cancer among women in Sierra Leone , followed closely by breast cancer (IARC Globocan 2008). Sierra Leone has a population of 1.53 million women ages 15 years and older who are at risk of developing cervical and breast cancer. Current estimates indicate that every year 670 women are diagnosed with cervical cancer and 466 die from the disease. In other words nearly 70 percent of women diagnosed with cervical cancer will die of this preventable and curable disease. Despite this, cervical and breast cancer screening and treatment are not available to the public and little research has been done to understand the nature of these cancers in Sierra Leone.

Over two days the team of doctors collaborated with local medical professionals and the Ministry of Health in Sierra Leone to perform and teach self-breast exams to 126 women, perform 120 PAP smears, 10 breast surgeries, 14 loop electrocautery excisions of the cervix, and 8 other gynecologic procedures. The clinic ran into the night until the last registered patient was seen and the Sierra Leonean medical personnel were fully trained to be self sufficient in running the program.

Cancer diagnosis and treatment are emerging as key priorities for the Ministry of Health in Sierra Leone, with the establishment of the country’s first ever Cancer Registry being announced just this June 2012. The Ministry’s announcement included plans national cancer planning and provision of training and education for healthcare staff. These plans are hampered though by lack of facilities and equipment for diagnosis and treatment. Sierra Leone currently has only one operational mammography unit and no cancer treatment centers capable of providing care other than basic medical care.

The Bo District Medical Officer from the Ministry of Health shared that, if successful, the pilot program brought by this team from Helping Children Worldwide could pave the way for the first ever full-scale collaborative women’s cancer initiative in the country.

THE DONATED EQUIPMENT was left behind for future use, all biopsies and pap smears were taken back to Virginia for analysis. Detailed follow up plans were laid out with the Mercy clinical team to ensure that these women would receive comprehensive dignified care.

Mercy Hospital, opened in 2007, is a program of Helping Children Worldwide a 501(c)3 nonprofit based in Herndon. For additional information about Mercy Hospital or Helping Children Worldwide visit www.helpingchildrenworldwide.org or contact Mary Beth Sams, African Programs Director at marybethsams@helpingchildrenworldwide.org or 703-956-6722.