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Rotary awards US$2 million grant to fight cervical cancer in Egypt

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United to End Cervical Cancer in Egypt, an initiative to reduce the number of cases while raising awareness and improving women’s access to preventive care, is the recipient of Rotary’s third annual Programs of Scale award. Rotary International President Jennifer Jones announced the grant at the global network’s annual convention in Melbourne, Australia.

The four-year program in and around Cairo will vaccinate more than 30,000 girls ages 9-15, provide cancer screenings for 10,000 women, and launch a public awareness campaign to reach 4 million people.

“As a cancer survivor, I am proud that we are supporting this project — and especially gratified that we are taking such an important step to support women’s health,” Jones said. “By providing preventive care, we can empower women and girls with the knowledge and resources they need to stay healthy and thrive. This program is further proof that Rotary is capable of creating large-scale, meaningful projects that create lasting change.”

Cervical cancer is considered one of the most preventable cancers. It’s caused primarily by the human papillomavirus (HPV), the most common viral infection of the reproductive tract. Ninety percent of deaths from cervical cancer occur in low- and middle-income countries, where cancer screenings and routine HPV vaccinations aren’t available and cultural misconceptions may deter women from seeking care. 

A 2021 report from the World Health Organization showed that less than 10% of women in Egypt had cervical cancer screenings in the previous five years and, of those diagnosed with the disease, more than half die from it. 

“By increasing awareness and promoting preventive care for cervical cancer, we can save lives and create healthier communities in Egypt,” said Amal El-Sisi, a professor of pediatrics at Cairo University and a member of the Rotary Club of El Tahrir. “As we gather data for the first time on the HPV and cervical cancer burden in the greater Cairo area, we are gaining crucial insights into the overall prevalence in Egypt.”

In addition to increasing awareness of cervical cancer and improving medical services for women, the program will make progress toward the goals set by WHO’s Cervical Cancer Elimination Initiative. This global effort aims to vaccinate 90% of girls, screen 70% of women, and treat 90% of women who have precancerous or cancerous cells. It aims to meet those targets by 2030. 

United to End Cervical Cancer in Egypt was initiated by the Rotary Club of El Tahrir, supported by Rotary clubs in and around Cairo and modeled after a presidential initiative on breast cancer that increased women’s visits to clinics and now offers routine breast health services. It has assembled a coalition of partners that include the Egyptian Ministry of Health and Population, the Egyptian Society for Colposcopy and Cervical Pathology, and the Sona3 El Khair Foundation.

The Rotary Foundation awards one US$2 million Programs of Scale grant each year to an evidence-based program that aligns with at least one of Rotary’s causes and is ready to be expanded to create larger-scale change. The programs are sponsored by Rotary members in collaboration with local communities and partner organizations that offer expertise and support. 

The other finalist this year was the Digital Interactive Classrooms program. It aims to improve the quality of education in Panama by introducing new technology in 230 classrooms.

Find a recording of Jones’ speech and other videos and images from the convention here.

Service and sightseeing as the convention gets underway

Even before the convention’s official opening, Rotary members were hard at work and play all around Melbourne. On Saturday Rotaractors visited the city’s art-filled alleyways, the convention’s House of Friendship threw open its doors, attendees visited the Melbourne Museum by night, and more than a thousand volunteers packed meals for people affected by disasters. 

Early that morning, a group of Rotaractors assembled near the iconic Flinders Street Station to tour the city’s famous laneways. These labyrinthine, graffiti-bedecked alleyways are a popular tourist spot. Led by Bianca Lobo of the Rotaract Club of Monash, Victoria, Australia, the group wended its way between the colorful walls, cameras at the ready. Nearby, a local artist spray-painted a fresh masterpiece.

“I’ve been to quite a few conventions, so it’s wonderful to be able to share my home city with others who’ve shared their home cities with me,” Lobo said. “Conventions are great because you get to celebrate what Rotary is beyond the bubble of your club — to see the meaningful work that’s being done, to connect with that purpose and higher good. It’s a unique experience." 

The event was one of a dozen organized by Rotaract Australia. Also on the docket: a visit to the Melbourne Zoo, a rooftop bar crawl, and an evening at the Sea Life Melbourne Aquarium.

“We thought it was important that Rotaractors [be] really celebrated at the convention,” said Laura Telford, chair of Rotaract Australia. “We didn’t have a preconvention, so it was important that we be embedded in the Rotary events while also having our own that Rotarians can come along to.”

Just a few blocks away, in Federation Square, a massive act of service was underway. Led by District 9800, more than 1,000 volunteers were packing meals for people in need. Some formed assembly lines on a stage surrounded by Rotary banners. Others worked at the opposite end of the square, in the imposing atrium of the National Gallery of Victoria. An emcee with a microphone kept the energy high, and pop music drew the attention of passersby.

“It's absolutely amazing how we’re connecting with the community. People walking by are just saying, ‘We want to help,’” said Michael Lapiña, governor-elect of District 9800 and a principal tenor at Opera Australia, said. He was there with three of his children, all members of the Rotary Club of Activate Victoria.

By the end of the day, the volunteers had assembled 100,000 meals to send to people in Ukraine, Turkey, and Syria. Each meal kit contained rice, red lentils, and a packet of vitamin powder — a nutritious, easily customizable combination. The kits were the brainchild of Doug Hawley, a member of the Rotary Club of Canterbury, Victoria, Australia.

The club has been doing meal-packing drives for about five years. They’re a simple, social way for almost anyone to contribute, Lapiña said.

“People think it’s hard to volunteer and help people. They think you’ve got to invest a lot of money and time,” he said. “But you don’t. Rotary will take whatever we give.”

Convention video and images can be found here.

Rotaract Australia led a tour of Melbourne’s famous laneways the day before the convention’s official kickoff. Alex Malubag, Manuela Rodriguez, Erica Malubag, and Madeleine Govender pose against the colorful walls.

Monika Lozinska / Rotary International

Rotary President Jennifer Jones speaks at the 2023 Rotary International Convention in Melbourne, Australia