Established in 2006, in memory of the first anniversary of the death of late Mrs Valerie Nicol and 25th death anniversary of the death of MS Melvine Edith Patricia Stuart (MEPS), both of whom died after contracting breast cancer, the MEPS Trust Well Woman Clinic has been re-opened to the public after it was partially closed during the ebola outbreak.
Mrs Jennifer Renner-Thomas, Programme Director, Well Woman Clinic, explained about the clinic which she said was established in memory of her younger sister Mrs Valerie Nicol, former High Court Judge who died on 17th March 2005 and Melvine Edith Patricia Stuart who died on 24th March 1981 and so in 2006, the clinic was opened to take care of the health of women “especially preventive medicine, as we believe that early detection of aliment is better than cure.”
She said the clinic does “breast cancer awareness, screening and referral. We do take care of the wellness of the Sierra Leonean Women with high blood pressure, diabetics, obesity and Sexually Transmitted Infections (STI) to make sure that the woman feels well to look after the rest of the family. We also do maternal health, as we have a scanning machine that does scan pregnant women to make sure that the mother and child are ok.”
She said they do two free scanning as one is done in the early trimester and the other is done during the third trimester “this is done to give hope to the women and our theme for this is ‘healthy mother, healthy baby’.
This programme, she disclosed was funded by Heineken Africa Foundation and supported by Sierra Leone Brewery but it has finished, so they are trying to see how “we can make it free or reasonable or to secure funding from donors.”
She said Valerie Nicol, an educated woman High Court Judge had breast cancer and she was not aware of it, so before she died, she asked us to do this in her memory. MEPS also had breast cancer and she gave up her house to serve as office for the women of this country as she “found out there are no awareness of breast cancer. The moment you talk about it, people get scared to even go to the hospital, so until we make strong awareness and include things like counselling, talk about diabetics, make them know that they don’t come because they are sick but to make sure that they are well that why it is named ‘Well Woman Clinic’
Ebola has affected lot of institutions in the country and the health sector faced a major setback,” she said. So how does this affect the Well Woman Clinic? The Programme Director said they were operating until the end of August but “we later realised that the staff and even patients were at risk, since we had not received any training or Personal Protective Equipment. We had to reduce on the work with only a skelton staff which comprises a nurse, an administrator and a driver.”
She also added that because they don’t want to leave their patients in the wilderness during this period “we used to receive phone calls from patients about preventive medicines, sometimes we organise radio programmes to tell people about their status. During the ebola, all efforts were centred on ebola and they were not paying attention to other ailments. We found out that a lot of people died from complications of diabetics and High Blood Pressure that was why we decide to open to the public to bring back hope to the women so that they will have a place to do medical check-up and know their status and this is done on an affordable price.”
On funding, Mrs Renner-Thomas said, they have been receiving funding from UNFPA funded for up to 2014, on the wellness which are areas like STI checks, screening and the breast cancer called the “Reproductive Health Cancers. Now we are trying to attract commercial institutions to help, so that it becomes free again or affordable for the women. We also engage in fund raising but last year because of the outbreak, we were not able to do such fund- raising like sponsored walk.”
About operations outside Freetown, she disclosed that they have offices in Bo, Kenema, Makeni, Waterloo and Sussex and that earlier, they trained peer educators to take the awareness message about breast cancer and then they take the message on antenatal health as “we have three ultra sound machines we take to these areas to screen the pregnant women so this brings awareness about the women and their babies but this has stopped because of the ebola and the funding.”
Giving hope to the women Mrs Jennifer Renner-Thomas said “we are saying to the women do not be afraid to come and be screened, as it is better you know your condition and be treated than staying home and not knowing anything about your body.
If you don’t come to Well Woman Clinic you will not know what is happening to you. If there is anyone that finds it difficult to pay, we have provision to help people in this category.” She encourage the women “to look after themselves, as the better you look, the better you feel.”
On what they hope to achieve, she said “we hope to achieve a one-stop clinic where by a women can come and pay attention to all issues concerning her body and at the same time get treatment under the same roof and we regard it as screening, diagnosis and treatment. But the whole problem is funding.”
Head Sister Adijatu Salam said ever since the institution was set up, there has been awareness of breast cancer as even the men now volunteer to come with their wives which show that we have made impact.