In a world of shocking inequalities, it can often be the very simplest things that have the biggest impact on a child’s life. Something to eat. Clean water to drink. A warm bed to sleep in. And now, thanks to one particularly enterprising doctor, vinegar is protecting children from losing their mothers.
Gynaecologist Dr Lex Peters has developed a simple and inexpensive method of detecting and treating the early warning signs of cervical cancer, using vinegar. SOS Children’s Villages has joined forces with the doctor’s’ ‘Female Cancer Foundation’ to make the procedure available to women across Gambia, Ghana, Kenya, Zambia and Malawi.
Thousands of women have been diagnosed and treated since the project began in 2011. Women like 54-year-old Esther, who we met at the SOS Children’s Villages medical centre in Nairobi.
Esther was diagnosed with the early signs of cervical cancer during a routine check-up and believes that early treatment saved her life and her children’s futures.
“Without SOS I probably would not have lived anymore,” she told us.
“Since my divorce I am the single carer of my six children. They could have ended up without their mother, without someone taking care of them. A terrible thought.
“Now I tell other women in my neighbourhood that they should be tested. That’s how I hope to save other mothers.”
For 38-year-old Florence the procedure has given her the chance to start a family of her own. She suffered several heart-breaking miscarriages before her church suggested she visit the medical centre.
“The last time I miscarried I was five months pregnant with twins,” she told us.
“My world collapsed. I did not know what was wrong with me until they found the wrong cells.”
Florence became pregnant again the year after her treatment and now has a healthy two-year-old boy called Samuel.
“I am so happy,” she told us as she cuddled Samuel on her lap. “I have a healthy son.”
Cervical cancer is preventable if the cells which lead to the disease are caught and treated early enough – but for millions of women around the world who cannot afford to visit the hospital for regular screenings, it can prove fatal.
Nine out of ten women who die each year from cervical cancer live in low and middle-income countries, where women have only a fifty-fifty chance of survival.
And because women are often the glue that holds families together through the hardest times their loss can have a devastating impact on the lives of their children, all too often resulting in them suffering abandonment or neglect.
Thankfully, the SOS Children’s Villages ‘Save my Mother’ project is living up to its name. The screenings are being offered for free in SOS medical centres and mobile clinics and are detecting cancer early enough to give women, and the children who rely on them, a fighting chance against this life-threatening disease.