Cervical Cancer Prevention in Mali
In West Africa, textiles have traditionally served as a medium of communication and storytelling. Working with the non-profit, GAIA Vaccine Foundation, we developed an educational pattern that serves to promote knowledge of cervical cancer and the HPV vaccine. This design tells the story of strong, educated women who proclaim, “I protect myself, I take care of myself, and I immunize myself”; a mantra written as a banner across the image of flowering, healthy cervixes. Nearly disguised in the vivid print are the images of fallopian tubes and uterus surrounding a near-invasion of HPV viruses embedded in abnormal cancerous cells. It is the banner of strength that keeps the virus out of the healthy cervixes, a reminder of the importance of preventative healthcare.
A local Bambara proverb, Banakoube kafisa ni bana foura kèyé, meaning, “It is better to prevent than to cure”, borders the pattern.
Mali, West Africa, has one of the highest rates of cervical cancer in the world, primarily due to lack of information and access to screening and vaccination. The goal of the textile pattern is to show the connection between HPV and cervical cancer and provide an important visual reminder that women can share with each other. With funding from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, the pattern was printed in Mali and distributed to healthcare personnel in 5 clinics in 2015 for an education and screening campaign.
Midwives in Mali wear the "story-telling cloth" at community-run health clinics. They use the pattern during public information sessions and offer free cervical cancer screenings. Women are encouraged to enroll their daughters in the national program for HPV vaccination.
During a 6-month campaign in 2015, 3,271 women received free screens. When asked if they would choose vaccination for their daughters, 87% said yes and 73% specifically mentioned an element of the campaign, such as the proverb printed on the cloth.