This past weekend, PINK BENIN went up north to Parakou. We’ve been struggling to get out of Cotonou, and more importantly, get the message out to more women in order to a) start tracking breast cancer cases throughout the country and b) create a force strong enough to pressure the Beninese government into making cancer treatments more accessible to the rural pour.
We’re running the pilot with Peace Corps because they’re well integrated into their communities and are well placed to identify reliable partners. We invited 7 villages to send a Peace Corps Volunteer, a community health worker, and a community radio host to learn about breast cancer. The radio hosts will return to their communities and do short shows and PSAs talking about the importance of early testing. They’ll send the women to their community health workers, who will do a physical screaning and teach women how to self-exam. The Peace Corps Volunteer will act as a coordinator and will organize awareness raising sessions.
Arrival in Parakou
We had some fun on the way (see Escargot, Beninese style, on himynameistheresa for more details about the food), but once we showed up in Parakou, it was a fiasco. The hotel Bertrand had scoped out a week ago when he went to Parakou to finalize our reservations was a dirty disaster, and they hadn’t set up the rooms like they’d promised (two beds per room instead of one). Worse, when we called them on it, instead of promising to fix the problem, they told us they’d have to triple the price of the room in order to have two beds. Yikes. Don’t stay at La Princess in Parakou. They’re awful.
What were we to do? Everything had been advertised at the Princesse, but we couldn’t ask conference participants to share beds! Not to mention that the place really was filthy. We ended up switching hotels. I can’t praise COTEB, where we stayed, highly enough. They were accomodating, clean, and worked their tails off to make things work for us. The Princess refused to refund our deposit, so we just used their conference room on the second day.
Teaching about breast cancer
Because we’re targeting rural communities, it’s important that both radio hosts and health workers have a solid understanding of not only breast cancer and its treatment, but how to express it in local language. We alternated between lectures in French by doctors and groupwork in local language to figure out vocabulary. The afternoon was spent in small groups. Community health workers learned how to do phsyical screenings and teach women how to auto-examen. Radio hosts learned public health communication strategies and wrote practice scripts.
We didn’t want the community health workers to go home without practicing how to examen women and teach women how to self-exam, so we organized a breast cancer screening for women in Parakou. For reasons beyond our control, the communique didn’t go out, but the doctors were able to organize an impromptu screening at a local maternity ward. It went swimmingly.
After the depistage, we had a Q&A with participants and doctors to clear up any last minute questions and misconceptions. It ran twice as long as it was supposed to, but that’s okay. The television crew showed up around 5:30, and we filmed our synthesis and certificate ceremony.
Things that could have gone better
The screening would have been less chaotic had it been in the hotel conference room instead of a maternity ward. Next time, we’ll have a backup communication plan if the radio falls through. We also needed more medical professionals to work with local language groups. Again, this wasn’t something that PINK had control over, but next time we’ll make sure that we have a medical professional or student for each language group, instead of just the large ones.
Things that went superbly
PINK is well organized, motivated, and hard working. That meant that even though the hotel was a fiasco, we were able to quickly get our act together and find a new place to sleep. We also have a great working relationship with our doctors, who helped us immensely when the first screening fell through. Both community health workers and radio hosts really enjoyed being able to practice their new skills before returning to their communities. Only time will tell if they’re actually able to incite women to self-examen.
Follow-up. Follow-up. Follow-up. Are community radios actually talking about breast cancer? When they do, are women actually visiting community health workers? Are community health workers really screening women for free? Are they doing their paperwork?
We want to implement a messaging system with FrontlineSMS:Medic, but as of yet, we don’t have a copy of the plugin. Hopefully that’ll change soon, and we’ll be able to make record keeping even easier for community health workers and doctors. Wish us luck!