If a woman develops invasive cervical cancer or other severe gynecological issues, she may require a hysterectomy (removal of all or part of the uterus) to prevent the spread of the disease to other vital organs and/or to relieve her symptoms. In most parts of the developed world, laparoscopic hysterectomies are the standard; they are faster, safer, and easier to recover from than their more invasive counterparts. Without laparoscopic hysterectomies, women are more likely to die from hemorrhages or infections. Despite the greater risk, open radical hysterectomies are often the only option for surgeons who do not have access to the training and tools to conduct laparoscopic procedures.
CureCervicalCancer works to make reproductive healthcare safe and accessible to the women around the world who need it most. Through an unanticipated connection, facilitated by CureCervicalCancer, a partnership between two healthcare providers formed that has since expanded access to laparoscopic hysterectomies in Tanzania.
This is the story of how one cervical cancer survivor’s journey to climb Mount Kilimanjaro brought Tanzanian doctor, Fredrick Mbise, the opportunity to bring this life-saving procedure to the women of Tanzania.
After battling and overcoming cervical cancer, Sara Nielsen set her sights on conquering Tanzania’s renowned peak. In 2017, Sara, along with a team of friends that included her gynecologist, Dr. Elizabeth Skinner, successfully scaled Mt. Kilimanjaro. In honor of her own fight with cervical cancer, Sara’s climb doubled as a fundraiser for CureCervicalCancer, raising roughly $10,000 towards ensuring all women have access to the routine screening that saved her life.
A few years earlier, the CureCervicalCancer team conducted a “See and Treat” training for a group of healthcare professionals in Mwanza, Tanzania where the team first met Dr. Mbise, who had traveled over 10 hours by bus to learn the life-saving method. He went on to establish CCC’s Selian Mobile clinic located at the base of Mt. Kilimanjaro which continues to reach hundreds of women each year.
Sara and Dr. Skinner were eager to visit some CureCervicalCancer “See & Treat” clinics, so the CCC team arranged for Dr. Mbise to serve as their guide. Upon arrival to meet Dr. Mbise at the Kilimanjaro Christian Medical Center (KCMC), Dr. Skinner immediately recognized that the women’s health department could significantly reduce complications from radical hysterectomies by performing them laparoscopically. Dr. Skinner went on to train KCMC staff in the technique, and established a partnership that has led her to return three times to provide further training and patient care.
Last year, Dr. Fredrick Mbise became the first resident in Tanzania to perform a laparoscopic hysterectomy. Reflecting on his partnership with Dr. Skinner, he said:
“Two years ago, a team led by a cervical cancer survivor named Sara and her gynecologist, Dr. Elizabeth Skinner, visited Tanzania and shadowed my cervical cancer screening clinics. CureCervicalCancer linked me to this team to help us create this partnership. The doctors and I had a long conversation about gynecological malignancies in Tanzania, and the need for a gynecological oncologist at KCMC to perform surgeries, training, and patient care. I shared my dream of becoming a laparoscopic surgeon.
Dr. Skinner linked with Duke University to create a partnership program with KCMC, and has since visited three times to provide training and patient care in the wards.
On her most recent visit on 26th Feb, 2020, Dr. Skinner assisted me and two other 4th year residents, Dr. Lyasimana Ndaningina and Dr. Dennis Mureith, to perform two cases of laparoscopic hysterectomies. I believe this to be the first laparoscopic hysterectomy to be done by a resident in Tanzania and only the second laparoscopic hysterectomy to ever be performed at KCMC.
On the behalf of myself and my patients, I would like to thank CureCervicalCancer and Dr. Elizabeth Skinner for their contribution in my career development. I would also like to acknowledge the individual support from everyone who helped me to make such a successful story.”
— Dr. Fredrick Mbise