Together Women Can: Empowering Women and Fighting Cervical Cancer

In the realm of social impact, some partnerships are more than just collaborations; they’re profound alliances working towards transformative change. One such alliance that shines brightly in our network is with Together Women Can (TWC), a passionate advocate and sponsor of Lightup Impact. The birth of Together Women Can TWC’s journey began with a vision to defeat cervical cancer among Kenyan women. Co-founded by our Executive Director, Dr. Valeria Santoro, and Dr. Hrvoje Cvija during their time at Boehringer Ingelheim, this initiative was born from a shared commitment to address a pressing issue. The mission was clear: to make a tangible difference in women’s lives through early diagnosis of cervical cancer and empowerment. A lifesaving debut TWC’s project was nothing short of remarkable. In partnership with Ampath, they launched a campaign that screened over 3 000 women for cervical cancer and equipped five healthcare facilities in Eldoret and its surroundings. Dr. Lydia Mwanzia, who played a pivotal role on the ground, will be sharing insights on community mobilization and outreach for cervical health screening during Lightup Impact Days 2023.  Shifting the power through economic empowerment TWC’s impact goes beyond health. They’ve embarked on an exciting new project in collaboration with Wa-Wa Kenya, focusing on women’s economic empowerment. This project targets Kindu and Mbita sub-counties of Homa Bay County, Kenya. Addressing critical challenges The project couldn’t have come at a better time. In Kenya, cervical cancer screening rates have been alarmingly low, with only 3% of eligible women receiving screening annually. This can be attributed to inadequate sexual health education, limited access to screening facilities, and women’s financial dependence. Wa-Wa Kenya, a LIghtup Impact member organization with a track record in reducing women’s economic vulnerability through skill development, will lead a poultry farming project as an incentive for the cervical cancer screening initiative. Previous slide Next slide The numbers speak The impact of TWC and Wa-Wa Kenya’s partnership is undeniable. TWC’s 2022 cervical cancer awareness and screening outreach touched the lives of more than 3 000 women. Wa-Wa Kenya has empowered over 600 women through professional skills development since 2019. These figures paint a picture of the positive change that collaboration can bring. What lies ahead In 2023-2024, TWC and Wa-Wa Kenya have ambitious plans. They aim to screen over 1 000 women for cervical cancer, get over 300 women vaccinated against human papillomavirus, and help the same number achieve economic stability through poultry farming. The synergy between these two organizations promises a brighter future for countless women. Join us in shaping a healthier future At Lightup Impact, we are honored to partner with TWC on their mission to defeat cervical cancer and empower women economically. The impact of this collaboration is already evident, and together, we’re committed to achieving even more.    Join us at Lightup Impact Days 2023 and witness firsthand how partnerships like ours are creating lasting change. It’s an event you wouldn’t want to miss! Register for Lightup Impact Days 2023

Taking Stock of Women’s Health

Women have battled and continue to battle for equality. Apart from societal, educational, and occupational opportunities, women also deserve the right to vital, quality, and specialized healthcare. Even though efforts to bring women’s health to the forefront have led to many advances in the field, the picture is by no means perfect – especially for women in low and middle-income countries (LMICs). A closer look at women’s health – past, present, and future – aims to shed light on unique challenges, celebrate progress, and hopefully inspire action. Understanding the gender health gap Women tend to outlive men. This is the case in all countries around the world, with an average of 4-8 years difference in life expectancy between the two sexes (1). But to what do we owe this difference in lifespan? This question has troubled researchers for many years, and though we still don’t know everything there is to know, it’s clear that social, environmental, behavioral, as well as biological (e.g. genetic or hormonal) differences are major influencers of health risk, health-seeking behavior, health outcomes, and responses from health systems (2, 3). A difference in lifespan can therefore be attributed to, for example, advances in obstetrics or maternal healthcare or poorer health-seeking behavior in men. Simply put, the more scientists and medical professionals understand the unique challenges women face, the better chance there is of innovating health solutions and tailoring healthcare to women’s specific needs. Apart from requiring specialized healthcare for conditions related to sexual and reproductive health (4), women also have a greater predisposition to several non-communicable diseases, including heart disease, some cancers, and depression (5, 6). And may experience symptoms or health conditions differently (7, 8) or respond differently to treatments (9, 10). It’s also important to emphasize the struggle some women face with gaining access to healthcare because of deeply rooted societal issues, namely sexual- and gender-based violence and poverty – issues that disproportionately affect women living in LMICs and play an important role in a woman’s physical, mental, and emotional wellbeing (2). The most common symptoms for a heart attack may differ between men and women. To put women in a position where equal opportunity to the best health outcomes is possible, health innovations, in addition to a better understanding of women’s health, are imperative. In this regard, we actually have a lot to show for the last 100 years. Notably, the development of medicinal products for maternal and sexual health – think mammograms, pap smears, and birth control – as well as improved inclusivity in medical research and coverage of healthcare costs (at least in some countries) (11). Even so, lots more can be done to close the gender health gap, and people and organizations worldwide have risen to the challenge! Closing the gender health gap Let’s start with the Danish-born founder of Clue, Ida Tin, who came up with an app that can track menstrual periods and ovulation, allowing women to easily collect information about their menstrual cycle and health. Information central to understanding and treating several women’s health conditions, including polycystic ovary syndrome and endometriosis. Others have focused their efforts on aiding the prevention, diagnosis, and treatment of cervical (12) as well as breast (13) cancer – two of the most prevalent cancers affecting women worldwide (14). In 2018, Kenya became the first country to remove tampon tax and distribute free sanitary pads in schools. Another leader in the fight against period poverty is Scotland. Becoming the first country to provide free tampons and sanitary pads to anyone who needs them in 2020 (15). Thankfully, many other countries, including Zambia and Botswana, are also recognizing the importance of supporting women’s health by lifting some of the financial burden and stigma associated with menstruation, giving women and girls the opportunity to experience life more freely, use their money for other basic needs, and even attend school (15). WA-WA Kenya supports women making reusable menstrual pads in Lake Victoria, Kenya (Photo by WA WA Kenya) Read more about period poverty and WA-WA Kenya here. On to visual aids in healthcare. Elsevier, a global leader in research publishing and information analytics, announced the launch of their 3D full female model – the most advanced model of its kind – earlier this year. The model provides an incredible amount of detail specific to female anatomy, giving educators the ability to present male and female anatomies equally, allowing future medical professionals to better understand and address gender disparities in medicine (16). On a similar note, Nigerian medical illustrator and aspiring neurosurgeon Chidiebere Ibe’s illustrations have taken the internet by storm. In particular, his depiction of a pregnant Black woman with a baby in utero had many (including myself) realizing it was the first time they had seen a photo of a Black woman shown in this way (17). In a statement made on his GoFundMe page, Chidiebere emphasized the importance of adequate representation in medicine, adding that “…a lack of diversity has important implications for medical trainees and their future patients because many conditions and signs look different based on a patient’s skin color…” (18). On his Instagram page (@ebereillustrate), you can find many more medical illustrations of Black women, including representations of the female lymphatic system in the breast and symptoms of ovarian cancer. Historically, women have been marginalized in medical research. Left out of clinical trials, critical to testing the safety and efficacy of new medicinal products. Though women’s participation in clinical trials has been on the rise since the early 1990s, it’s hard to ignore the effect their exclusion from this critical process in medicines development has had on women’s health. This article from Well and Good provides a great overview of this issue. For decades expecting and breastfeeding mothers have been considered vulnerable patient groups and have, as such, been excluded from the medicine-testing process. This has resulted in a lack of safety information for many medicines prescribed during pregnancy and breastfeeding, making treatment choices even tougher for women. To highlight an innovative project supporting

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We increase the visibility and impact of social organizations with a focus on women’s health and gender equality in Kenya. We support the growth of our founders through tailored mentoring and networking opportunities