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Rotary awards US$2 million grant to fight cervical cancer in Egypt

By Etelka Lehoczky

United to End Cervical Cancer in Egypt, an initiative to reduce the number of cases while raising awareness and improving women’s access to preventive care, is the recipient of Rotary’s third annual Programs of Scale award. Rotary International President Jennifer Jones announced the grant at the global network’s annual convention in Melbourne, Australia.

The four-year program in and around Cairo will vaccinate more than 30,000 girls ages 9-15, provide cancer screenings for 10,000 women, and launch a public awareness campaign to reach 4 million people.

“As a cancer survivor, I am proud that we are supporting this project — and especially gratified that we are taking such an important step to support women’s health,” Jones said. “By providing preventive care, we can empower women and girls with the knowledge and resources they need to stay healthy and thrive. This program is further proof that Rotary is capable of creating large-scale, meaningful projects that create lasting change.”

Cervical cancer is considered one of the most preventable cancers. It’s caused primarily by the human papillomavirus (HPV), the most common viral infection of the reproductive tract. Ninety percent of deaths from cervical cancer occur in low- and middle-income countries, where cancer screenings and routine HPV vaccinations aren’t available and cultural misconceptions may deter women from seeking care.

A 2021 report from the World Health Organization showed that less than 10% of women in Egypt had cervical cancer screenings in the previous five years and, of those diagnosed with the disease, more than half die from it.

“By increasing awareness and promoting preventive care for cervical cancer, we can save lives and create healthier communities in Egypt,” said Amal El-Sisi, a professor of pediatrics at Cairo University and a member of the Rotary Club of El Tahrir. “As we gather data for the first time on the HPV and cervical cancer burden in the greater Cairo area, we are gaining crucial insights into the overall prevalence in Egypt.”

In addition to increasing awareness of cervical cancer and improving medical services for women, the program will make progress toward the goals set by WHO’s Cervical Cancer Elimination Initiative. This global effort aims to vaccinate 90% of girls, screen 70% of women, and treat 90% of women who have precancerous or cancerous cells. It aims to meet those targets by 2030.

United to End Cervical Cancer in Egypt was initiated by the Rotary Club of El Tahrir, supported by Rotary clubs in and around Cairo and modeled after a presidential initiative on breast cancer that increased women’s visits to clinics and now offers routine breast health services. It has assembled a coalition of partners that include the Egyptian Ministry of Health and Population, the Egyptian Society for Colposcopy and Cervical Pathology, and the Sona3 El Khair Foundation.

The Rotary Foundation awards one US$2 million Programs of Scale grant each year to an evidence-based program that aligns with at least one of Rotary’s causes and is ready to be expanded to create larger-scale change. The programs are sponsored by Rotary members in collaboration with local communities and partner organizations that offer expertise and support.

The other finalist this year was the Digital Interactive Classrooms program. It aims to improve the quality of education in Panama by introducing new technology in 230 classrooms.

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