Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Low cost health intervention to save women's lives

Ramogola-Masire simply swabs a woman's cervix with vinegar and then looks for any potentially cancerous lesions, which appear as white tissue. If pre-cancerous lesions are present, she freezes them with nitrous oxide.
"She's lying on the couch," Ramogola-Masire says. "You look at [the cervix], you wash it with vinegar. You take a picture. You can immediately review the picture because you've got a screen. So you can say to them, this is the white change. I think this is where the abnormality is. We are going to freeze it. What happens is the freezing actually takes care of the top layer. You just sluff that off. And hopefully you've taken care of the problem."
Almost all cervical cancer is caused by the human papillomavirus. There appears to be higher rates of HPV and cervical cancer among women with HIV, Ramogola-Masire says. Botswana has one of the highest rates of HIV in the world, with nearly a quarter of all adults believed to be HIV positive.
In the early days of the AIDS epidemic, Ramogola-Masire says, cervical cancer wasn't much of a concern because women with HIV weren't living long enough for the cancer to develop. Once cervical cancer has spread, it's difficult to treat, particularly in poor countries with limited health resources.
If caught early, cervical cancer is easily treatable. If not, Ramogola-Masire says, it's a terrible death. "It invades you nerves at the spine at the back, so you are in a lot of pain," she says.
"The other thing is that because there's a lot of dead tissue, you smell. There's a lot of bleeding. You're incontinent. You're in pain, you're bleeding ... I think it's just a horrible disease to die from."
Ramogola-Masire hopes that the widespread adoption of cervical cancer screening with vinegar in the developing world can help prevent those horrible deaths.

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