#Fromthefield: In Africa to fight cancer – Diary of the last trip to Uganda by Titti Andriani – Afron, Oncology for Africa Onlus

Titti Andriani has always had a very strong bond with Africa, a passion that has been there since 1980, when she went to Senegal for the first time.

A passion that, through the years, led her to increasingly devote herself to the problems of this great and contradictory continent. In particular, trying to fight the difficulties and prejudices that often surround women affected by cancer.

To chase her dream, Titti Andriani left her career in the for profit sector to start working as a volunteer in many countries around the world. She attended Master FRAME- NGOs Business Administration, Marketing, Communication, Social Media, Campaigns at Social Change School, that provided her essential skills and technical tools. Now, she is the President of “AFRON – Oncology for Africa Onlus, an association dedicated to the prevention and cure of cancer in African countries.

Let’s read the diary of her last trip to Uganda for the occasion of “World Cancer Day”, amongst ambassadors and Karimojong!

“As soon as I landed in Kampala I sent a message to one of the doctors we have worked with for years, and his response was” Welcome Home”. My heart skipped a beat! That extraordinary sense of belonging! They too had realized that I feel at home here in Uganda and that the women I am caring for, are for me like sisters. I arrived just two days ago and it seems like an eternity. Rather than respecting the African placid times, I practice the usual Western frenetic rhythms, with fear of not being able to achieve all the goals we have set ourselves.

The first of these goals is to celebrate among them World Cancer Day, the International Day Against Cancer, commemorated globally. We celebrate in a joyful atmosphere with 30 Ugandan women, survivors of breast cancer. They work as volunteers for Uganda Women’s Cancer Support Organization (UWOCASO), an NGO, our partner since 2013.

These women, consider themselves very lucky because they were able to beat cancer notwithstanding the difficulties encountered. They won over the shame of being considered “infected” or punished by God for a wrong behaviour. They had to sell all their possessions in order to pay for the chemotherapy, which is not covered by the national health system, they ahd to face a long and difficult journey, that brought them from their villages to the capital to get treatment, they had to leave their 6 to 8 children at home and their work in the fields. Today, they smile happily. When interviewed, they reply that what matters, after all, is “to live”… A hymn to life!

Our Association AFRON, has been supporting the activities of UWOCASO for 4 years because they, more than anyone alse, with their personal and happy testimonials, can win the stigma, ignorance and misconceptions surrounding cancer and convince other Ugandan women to undergo one gynaecological screening and breast imaging offered by us, a screening that could save their lives.

My journey continued to Karamoja, a barren and desolate land, where only since a few years it is possible to return to work in a climate of security. In 2016, AFRON has enabled a partnership with the Matany Hospital, a little gem run by the Combonian Missionaries with the valuable support of CUAMM Doctors to Africa. Together with CUAMM, we are putting in place a program of information on cancer, a reality that is totally unknown by the population, and of gynecological and breast imaging screening for Karimojong women. Last November we were able to visit 1,836 women in two weeks!

My presence today is due to the organization of the next screening campaign, scheduled for October 2017, and the follow up of patients; some are still waiting for the histological results but we already know that two of them, who have been diagnosed with cervical cancer in advanced stage, will not survive. The lack of knowledge of the disease and the absence of prevention programs have prevented women from going to the hospital in time for treatment. This is the great dilemma of African countries: late diagnosis always leads to fatal consequences. And so, with this sense of powerlessness and frustration in the heart, I have to resign myself to the fact that we will lose two more women… It is something impossible to accept…

But we must look ahead and realize that due to our current and future awareness and screening programs, women will have the opportunity to learn about cancer, to prevent it and to seek treatment in time.

I am returning to Kampala on a small Cessna with 16 seats: just looking at it makes you want to cross yourself! However,  since my son is a pilot and since this was saving me another 12 hours by car in the dust, like on the outward journey, I gladly get on board and enjoy the Ugandan scene from the sky. Amazing how the colours change in just an hour: it goes from a yellow arid desert, to the red African soil, the blue of the great lakes, the green of the Mediterranean maquis and in the blink of an eye I am catapulted back into the hellish traffic of Kampala.

After some meetings with our other partners to plan future activities, it’s time for the last and important meeting in Kampala: the reception organized at the Residence of the Italian Ambassador in Uganda, H.E. Domenico Fornara, in favor of AFRON and the fight against cancer in Uganda. We received great support from the Ambassador, who repeatedly declared himself in favor of AFRON and UWOCASO and expressed his hope for the commitment of the Ugandan government to take measures to face this new health emergency. In the presence of the Permanent Secretary of the Ministry of Health, the Minister of Karamoja, the Ambassadors of USA, Norway and Rwandai, local and international NGOs, the appeal was unanimous: TAKE ACTION AGAINST CANCER.

In a long tradition of health cooperation, Italy and Uganda once again unite their efforts to ensure that Ugandans women and children have the right to health prevention and access to cancer care.

WE CAN I CAN is the slogan of World Cancer Day. Today, returning to Rome, I have the distinct feeling that, thanks to great effort, WE CAN!

By Titti Andriani 

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