Post updated February 2, 2012.
Mildred Akinyi had abdominal pain for some time before she attended a reproductive health workshop for HIV positive couples at Masafu Hospital in Uganda in July 2011.
“I always felt pain in my abdomen, and would take a lot of panadols to ease the pain. I did not know what was wrong with me,” Akinyi said. “When I heard from the case manager at Masafu hospital that STAR-E had organized for women living with HIV and their partners to be screened for cervical cancer and sexually transmitted infections (STIs), I could not wait to use that chance to get checked.”
Akinyi is 33 years old, HIV positive, and has five children. Like many women, she did not know that she had developed a precancerous condition until she was screened during a screening exercise organized by the USAID-funded Strengthening TB and AIDS Response – Eastern Region (STAR-E) project, led by Management Sciences for Health (MSH).
Akinyi was understandably frightened when she received her diagnosis. “I feared I would die soon, because I had been told cancer is dangerous especially if one is HIV positive, but the nurse told me [the precancerous condition] could still be treated. I was assigned to a case manager for follow up.”
STAR-E providers are supported by nurse midwife practitioners from Mbale Regional Referral Hospital who are trained on cervical cancer screening by WHO-endorsed clinicians.
On July 30, 2011, Akinyi underwent her first cryotherapy at Mbale Regional Referral Hospital. Her case manager, Immaculate Ajambo, escorted her to Mbale Hospital to start the treatment. “When Nurse Hellen put the machine in me, I was scared,” said Akinyi. But her fear didn’t keep her from receiving treatment. “There was cold pain, but I was determined to go through it.”
On September 5, 2011, Akinyi, accompanied by her case manager, completed her cryotherapy and was declared out of danger. Excited, she said: “STAR-E has really touched my life… Now I am happy, I don’t feel any pain, and I can do a lot of work which I was not able to do before because of the pain I used to feel. Now I can look after my family knowing that I only have HIV, not cancer!”
Jennifer Francesca Acio is the gender & people living with HIV advisor for STAR-E.