By Mahjabina Anjum Pritu

12 September 2019 - 14:48

“Apu, don't worry about the photographs. We just came here to support, pictures are not that important” – a young boy from the rally assured me, smiling through the damp weather, as I was running here and there restlessly, adjusting people's positions and struggling to fit hundreds of people in a single frame who voluntarily took part in our procession held for “Cervical Cancer Prevention Week”. I looked at him and exchanged a smile. All these people came just because they believed this was an issue that needed to be talked about. Yet, only a few months back, imagining something like this was nearly impossible on our campus. Open discussion on women’s sexual and reproductive health was considered equivalent to “acting shameless”.

 I was talking about our dream project “Wings of Eve” – the social action project initiated by the 100th batch of Active Citizens Youth Leadership Training Program which is a flagship programme of the British Council. This group of students from Rajshahi University is working to increase awareness and break the taboo regarding cervical cancer and women’s sexual & reproductive health. It was very difficult to make moves on this issue in the socio-cultural perspective of Bangladesh. But our team members' determination and cooperation of some beautiful minded people kept us going.

 “Vaccination Program for Cervical Cancer Prevention” has been our biggest project since it started. In Bangladesh, nearly 18 women die every day due to cervical cancer. The low-income communities of Bangladesh is more exposed to the risks of cervical cancer. But they can hardly afford the HPV vaccine as the price for each dose is very high. With the help of Rotary International and Rajshahi Cancer Hospital & Research Centre Trust, we are providing this vaccine for 200 BDT only, which is less than one-tenth of the original price. We have already conducted five separate events and brought more than 300 women and girls under vaccination.

 This issue is very complex and multifaceted to begin with. In order to be able to put 100 percent of our effort in this field, we participated in workshops and seminars organized in Rajshahi Cancer Hospital and Research Centre Trust with renowned medical professionals as speakers and trainers.The female members of our team conducted campaigns in residential halls, for female students in Rajshahi University, and civil hostels, residential hostels of other educational institutes to create mass-awareness about cervical cancer among women. We tried to reach both male and female population of this area with our messages. Our volunteers worked relentlessly to motivate males to encourage discussing the sexual and reproductive health issues with their female family members, friends, and relatives. We also informed them how passive smoking affects women and increases the risk of cervical cancer. Many of them promised to follow smoking etiquettes after our campaigns. We have also conducted an awareness campaign among the shop owners and employees of Rajshahi University Campus.

 We have tried to take diversified promotional activities, so our message can reach to people of all different parts of the society coming from different background. We used posters and distributed leaflets to share the necessity of cervical cancer Awareness. We produced articles, graphic contents and videos. We also organized seminars and participated in talk shows. In another important project of ours, we tried to breakdown and simplify complex medical terms related to cervical cancer and presented it to mass people in an easy-to-understand fashion. We published a photo album titled “Frequently asked Questions” on our social media pages and there we answered common queries from a different group of people. To simplify the answers, we took help from the volunteers of the Institute of Health and Technology, Rajshahi.

 On 2 January 2019, the first day of Cervical Cancer Prevention Week, we held a candle-light vigil participated by hundreds of people. Professor Rukshana Begum, Department of Accounting and Information System and Asst. Professor Meherun Nesa Meri, Department of Zoology of Rajshahi University also participated in the campaign. The facilitators of Active Citizens Youth Leadership Training also supported us throughout the event.

 So far, our journey got the support of many likeminded people and organizations. Currently “Student Community Policing Forum” is working with us to prevent “Child Marriage” with the direct assistance of Rajshahi Metropolitan Police. Radio Padma 99.2 FM recently invited us on multiple talk shows to talk about our project. Rajshahi Cancer Hospital and Research Center Trust is helping us with the necessary medical facilities. Rotary International stood by our side by providing fund for vaccination. As already mentioned, volunteers of the Institute of Health Technology, Rajshahi helped us to represent complex medical terms to mass people. 

Throughout our journey a huge number of people from all over the country contacted us and requested to organise similar vaccination programs in their locality. But due to shortage of fund and manpower it was not always possible for us to accommodate all of it. We have come a long way, but this is not the end. Rather this is just the beginning and we believe we have an even longer path ahead of us. The dream we once saw, requires support from every capable person to convert this into reality. We will need a massive amount of fund to ensure vaccination for all women and girls and spread our cause in every corner of Bangladesh. We dream to build a cervical cancer-free Bangladesh and collective support from everyone can help us in making that happen.