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CANSA Partnering with KZN Health Department to Increase Cervical Cancer Screening

September 2017: A team of volunteers, social workers and nurses from the non-profit organisation, the Cancer Association of South Africa (CANSA), is making its way to the Umzimkhulu Primary Health Clinic, along the winding road from Pietermaritzburg.

Trailing behind them is CANSA’s Mobile Health Clinic, from which the team conducts screening for various cancers, including Pap smears to detect the early signs of cervical cancer, which is mostly caused by the sexually transmitted Human Papilloma Virus (HPV).

Mthembu and about 50 other women, some with children, have been queueing for hours outside the clinic, about 110 km from Pietermaritzburg, in KwaZulu-Natal. By the early afternoon, the floors of the clinic are strewn with apple cores and the leftovers of other snacks mothers had packed for their toddlers.

Umzimkhulu Primary Health Clinic, PMB, KZN – image source:

Phindile Mthembu is nervous. “I am very worried. I have been experiencing a discharge — and a very bad smell,” she says, picking at a loose thread on her denim skirt.

Like many other patients in the queue, Mthembu came to the clinic unaware the CANSA nurses would be there. But she believes their presence is an unexpected blessing.

Mthembu says she watched her mother suffer from uterine cancer and is determined not to make the same mistake. “My mother was too scared to check what was wrong with her — in the end, doctors had to remove her womb.”

Inside the clinic, operational manager Nozingisa Makhanya runs her index finger over the pages of a tattered logbook. “In the last two weeks, we have only done five Pap smears. Today, with the CANSA people here, we have already done eight and it’s only early afternoon.”

Nurse Carmell Smith examines a patient as part of CANSA’s Mobile Health Clinic cervical cancer screening – image source:

Makhanya says most women who come to the clinic are happy to have Pap smears done, but staff do not always have the equipment available to conduct the tests. The clinic only recently received stock of vaginal speculums, the metal instrument used to inspect the cervix. As a result of the stock-out, no Pap smears were done in July.

CANSA is partnering with the department to increase Pap smear screening. Previous Divisional Service Manager at Cansa’s KwaZulu-Natal branch, Cara Noble, says she has seen improvement in early detection and training of nurses in the province. She cautions: “We are hoping for the same commitment to the oncology crisis. Our patients are still suffering.”

For patients at Umzimkhulu, CANSA’s Mobile Health Clinic can only do so much, says nurse, Carmell Smith. After patients’ results are communicated to them, usually within two weeks, they are again dependent on under-resourced state facilities.

These women will probably be screened at a public-sector clinic. But for them, even early detection may not save them from becoming collateral damage in the systematic collapse of KwaZulu-Natal’s health systems.

Luckily for Mthembu, her Pap smear will be processed by a private laboratory. Before taking the long road home, she admits that there was no reason to be scared of the test. “I am so happy I did it. It went smoothly, nothing painful. That lady nurse Carmell was very kind.”

Original Source & full web post: (Joan van Dyk)

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