Information is power when it comes to dispelling myths and increasing adherence to cancer treatment in West Africa.
That’s according to the grand winner of Astellas’ third annual C3 Prize, Ebele Mbanugo of the Run for a Cure Africa Breast Cancer Foundation.
After pitching a digital audio series that addresses common barriers to breast cancer treatment in Nigeria to an audience of industry professionals, Ebele was awarded a $50,000 grant as part of a package of support to help develop her idea.
Speaking to Change Together, Ebele said: “We are over the moon, because any opportunity to speak about the struggles and challenges of fighting cancer in Western Africa helps with our vision and mission.”
The inspiration behind the audio series, which will be distributed to patients via Nigeria’s preferred communication channel WhatsApp, came from working with patients, she said.
“I have had the privilege of working one-on-one with patients, and I found their questions were easy ones, but they didn’t have the answers.”
“It made me realize that the way it was being explained to them meant they were not getting it. In a few incidences that not knowing has proved deadly,” said Ebele.
In one such case, a woman whose treatment had been paid for by the Foundation stopped attending hospital as she felt better after a few sessions.
“That was an alarm bell for us. She really didn’t understand her breast cancer diagnosis, because if she had, she wouldn’t have stopped treatment, especially when it had been paid for,” said Ebele.
Soon after this, the charity performed a ‘flash mob skit’ at the local market on the importance of early detection. Silence fell upon the usually loud and chaotic community hub, as the crowds gathered to watch.
Said Ebele: “It made me think. If we took the information that the doctors are giving out and make it more relevant and culturally sensitive, will the patients understand it better?”
“If you know better, you do better, and we believe it will increase patient adherence if they understand what a breast cancer diagnosis means.”
The series will also be broadcast on Nigerian radio to raise awareness in the wider community, in a bid to dispel common myths about cancer.
Fighting the stigma
“We have had patients who have refused to tell even their parents out of fear that they will think they have a bad spirit come upon them or they have offended an ancient ancestor.”
“This audio series will give us the opportunity, in a culturally sensitive and relevant way, to help the community see cancer sufferers as human beings just like them. To help them understand that this disease has infiltrated their body through no fault of their own.”
This, in turn, will help people dealing with a breast cancer diagnosis tell their families and communities, rather than attempt to cover it up.
“If they are quiet, they can’t get the necessary support – and it’s fear that keeps them quiet,” explained Ebele.
Testing and piloting
Winning the C3 prize will allow Ebele to get started on the project. The first step is gathering local patients and writers together into focus groups, before developing and piloting preliminary episodes.
Asked how she felt about winning the prize, which includes membership to healthcare innovation community MATTER, Ebele said she was humbled to have even been shortlisted at all.
“We are really excited about this opportunity and we know it will make so much of a difference. We are over the moon to not only do it in Nigeria, but we have already had East African partners ask to use the finished series.
“It has legs, and it could go further than we ever imagined.”
Astellas’ C3 Prize is a global challenge that supports non-treatment innovations aimed at improving the cancer care experience for patients, caregivers and their loved ones.
Two category winners also received $25,000 grants from the program. You can find out more about the C3 Prize and the 2018 winners by clicking on the below links.
Attendees at Run for a Cure Africa Breast Cancer Foundation outreach events