This project aims to advance women’s health by research into appropriate methods of cervical cancer prevention in South Africa. This is appropriately and passionately expressed by our motto “Phambili Ngempilo Yabafazi”, meaning “Forward with Women’s Health”.
The project was initiated in 1995 in collaboration with Columbia University, New York and funded by the Cancer Association of South Africa, EngenderHealth and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. The site initially was situated in a specially adapted caravan and then moved to two other sites in the same area using second-hand shipping containers. The site is currently located on the grounds of a primary health care clinic, known as Site B CHC.
Our site consists of 5 containers and one prefabricated building, it has electricity and is connected to the primary care clinic generator. It has a basin for running water and an autoclave for sterilising equipment. The site is internet connected, has three desktop computers, telephones, appropriate storage for site files and we have a resident data capturer who captures data in real time on a daily basis. We have three examination rooms equipped with examination couches and all equipment needed to perform lower genital tract surgery, such as colposcopes, LEEP equipment, thermo-coagulators, biopsy, endocervical curettage and removal of small warts or vulval lesions are on site and regularly maintained. We have a password protected storeroom for confidential patient files.
The adjacent primary care clinic, the Site B CHC, is open 24 hours 7 days a week, has an emergency unit, X-Ray facilities, reproductive health facilities, HIV clinics and a Maternity Obstetric Unit (MOU). They also have a cytology clinic. We collaborate very closely with the clinic and provide non-research related gynaecology services including running a colposcopy clinic. We have trained two medical officers from the clinic to perform colposcopies.
The site is highly respected by the local community and our follow up rates of screened women are in the range of 80 – 90%. In the course of our work, we have developed culturally appropriate educational and informational tools to ensure a high level of knowledge and compliance with our various projected. We have developed a ‘bottom up’ approach, allowing our patients to lead the way towards educational development.
The project has received many research grants from various funding agencies. Our most recent grant was awarded to us in collaboration with Columbia University, New York, USA in 2020, from National Institutes of Health of the United States of America. This new study will investigate the use of AI-based Automated Visual Evaluation for cervical cancer screening in HIV positive women.
Over the years, we have published findings from our various researches in reputable medical journals. Our publications have informed major policy decision on cervical cancer prevention both at provincial-level, at country-level and internationally. We have also presented our research finding in many fora.