Leocardia Ndege, a widowed vegetable farmer and mother of five in Northern Tanzania, shares her story of survival in honor of Mother's Day.
Leocardia Ndege, a widowed vegetable farmer and mother of five in Northern Tanzania, had no idea she could be at increased risk of developing cervical cancer until she witnessed her neighbor battling the disease and went to get tested.
“I used to hear about this type of cancer but never took it seriously,” she said. “I was shocked by the positive results.”
As a woman living with HIV, Leocardia regularly receives antiretroviral treatment from the Ariel Glaser Pediatric AIDS Healthcare Initiative, which screened her for cervical cancer and discovered early precancerous lesions in 2018. Leocardia knows her health is her most treasured asset – one which allows her to provide for her children and put them through school. But because she had received misinformation about what treatment would entail, she initially declined the procedure.
Leocardia’s story isn’t an unusual one: Tanzania has the fourth highest rate of cervical cancer in the world. Of the 1.6 million adults living with HIV in the country, 1 million (63%) are women, and women living with HIV are six times more likely to develop cervical cancer. That’s why the Go Further Partnership – in conjunction with organizations like Ariel Glaser – is actively working to educate and screen women; address the high rates of cervical cancer in sub-Saharan Africa; and significantly slash the number of women who die from this preventable disease.
Go Further – a partnership between the U.S. Department of State through the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief, the George W. Bush Institute, UNAIDS, Merck, and Roche – has completed more than 717,000 screenings in Tanzania for cervical cancer through September 2021, the last date for which figures are available. Women who are mothers, sisters, daughters, and friends. Women who are raising their children and contributing to their communities and nations. Women like Leocardia.
After her screening, Leocardia balked at the proposed minimally invasive, same-day treatment to remove the precancerous lesion because she had heard false rumors that the treatment would cause complications or painful scraping. She went home in a panic and told her sister, who referred her to another nurse, who set Leocardia straight. Two days later, she returned to Ariel Glaser for cryotherapy to remove the lesion.
“I was still frightened by the effect of cancer, so I adhered to all instruction and the medications given,” she said. “I received treatment in one day and went back home by myself without needing any assistance from my sister.”
Ariel Glaser, a Go Further implementing partner in Tanzania, has integrated cervical cancer screening into existing programs like HIV care and treatment; reproductive and child health; family planning; and outpatient care. Screening is an important tool to catch precancerous lesions early so that they can be easily treated and women can go on to live full and healthy lives. Integrating screening into other existing health programs allows more women to access these lifesaving services.
To better facilitate program integration and coordination, Ariel Glaser engages district-level coordinators responsible for various health programs; prints and distributes cervical cancer prevention monitoring and evaluation tools to all service delivery points; and conducts campaigns to encourage women to be screened. The organization has worked to specifically increase the number of women living with HIV who have been screened for cervical cancer.
Ariel Glaser offers screening and same-day treatment of precancerous lesions in HIV clinics where women are already collecting their HIV medications, makes dedicated appointment times specifically for women living with HIV, and supports women trained as cervical cancer previon champions to educate women living with HIV about screening and encourage them to be screened.
One year after her treatment, Leocardia was rescreened and this time tested negative. She credits God, Ariel Glaser, the clinic nurse, and all the doctors who looked after her.
“I urge fellow women to get screened as frequently as possible.” Leocardia said. “Do not accept the lies about the treatment. I am a living witness. I am healthy, and I dream of having a healthy life where I will see my children grow and have their own families. I also wish one day to have my own house.”