How Women-Inspired Strategies for Healthcare (WISH) Expands its Impact by Creating Changemakers in the Global Fight Against Cervical Cancer
When faced with the reality of staggering rates of death by cervical cancer — a slow-growing, treatable, and preventable di
sease — the WISH Revolution team did not merely “wish” for change. Instead, WISH creates change and actively combats cervical cancer by putting women, not hospitals, at the center of prevention and treatment by b
ringing women-inspired prevention measures to women’s homes and local health posts.
WISH co-creates and implements HPV and cervical cancer solutions alongside health and community leaders across the globe. In doing so, the consortium has encountered major gaps in reproductive and sexual health care resulting from geographic, cultural, financial, and political barriers.
Consequently, WISH develops solutions that place the individual woman at the center of her health care experience. Through storytelling, peer-to-peer engagement, accessible technology, and community-based health care and education, WISH is able to inspire changemakers who are empowered to lead the revolution against cervical cancer. Marlee Krieger (Executive Director, Center for Global Women’s Health Technologies) and Libby Dotson (Research Associate, Center for Global Women’s Health Technologies) have shared their own perspectives on the past, present, and future impact of WISH.
In action, the WISH model actually began long before it had a name, composed of many separate components that came together as a cohesive but multifaceted model around the time that the pocket colposcope was invented in 2010. While Dr. Nimmi Ramanujam began work within the model in 2005, Marlee in 2007, and Libby in 2017, the Center for Global Women’s Health Technologies was founded in 2013 and allowed for further collaboration between separate projects and groups working toward similar goals regarding reproductive health and cervical cancer. According to Libby, when WISH decided to apply to the MacArthur Foundation 100&Change grant, “collaborations and partnerships deepened even further in that effort and connected missing pieces even more.” Marlee also mentions that “every year, we try to keep adding to the model,” and new aspects, goals, and ideas are compounded as the model continues to grow and expand.
“Every year, we try to keep adding to the model.”
Currently, co-creation between involved universities, NGOs, commercial entities and various other stakeholders across all aspects of WISH’s design and implementation process takes on the primary role in ensuring the model’s progress and success. Marlee emphasizes that they “rely on human-centered design to involve all stakeholders (health care providers, the women that will have the screening done on them) in the design process and give them voices through the storytelling platform.” She goes on to share that because of this human focus, “not only are women able to provide input on the development of the devices themselves, but they can share stories of their experiences after they go through the screening.” Libby adds that “with co-creation alongside stakeholders, there is an opportunity to replicate and adapt the model in communities beyond our initial pilot sites in Kenya and Peru based on their specific needs. An example of this is how the HOPE community-health worker model is used in Peru, but not in the Kenya context currently.”
Peer-to-peer interaction and education has also furthered WISH’s cause against cervical cancer by empowering women to take preventative measures into their own hands and to share their personal experiences with other women in their communities. Libby discusses how “in Peru, Dr. Patricia Garcia, former Minister of Health, has developed a project called HOPE in which she recruits women in communities surrounding Lima to become social entrepreneurs of self-HPV test kits. Dr. Garcia created a university training
program to educate them on cervical cancer and communication through Whatsapp. She then gives them affordable and accessible prevention kits to give out to their neighbors and peers in their community, and, in the process, these women simultaneously communicate with and educate friends and family.” In Peru, HOPE takes care of the screening step of the care cascade. WISH plans to work in clinics to confirm diagnoses and provide treatment to women needing it in a single visit. This collaboration additionally demonstrates the necessity of co-creation alongside community-based health care when it comes to The WISH Revolution’s work.
Storytelling and community building reshape attitudes toward women’s health beyond diagnoses and treatments, too. By putting health care in the hands of the women directly impacted by reproductive health issues, WISH’s emphasis on community and the storytelling initiative brings a feared and stigmatized topic out from the shadows and into the center of conversation. Marlee believes “this is one of the most important areas of change because once you get one woman talking, other women will feel more comfortable sharing their experiences and talking about reproductive health. It also empowers women to make more informed decisions about their own reproductive health.”
Libby echoes this and adds that “it is really quite amazing how empowered women became in this process when being able to act in their own health process, even beyond health, such as in public speaking, knocking
on doors and talking to strangers about reproductive health, and sharing information on social media.” Furthermore, Marlee states that “in addition to making women feel comfortable about reproductive health and bringing them into the conversation, we are also making other areas where women feel marginalized (STEM and business) more inclusive. We are educating all genders, but we do place special emphasis on women when it comes to STEM. Women are also empowered to make some income through Project HOPE (selling the HPV self-screening tests and low-cost diagnostic tools), giving them a way to bring income into their own household.”
Looking ahead in regard to seeing WISH scale and grow, Marlee states that WISH’s “ultimate goal is to see cervical cancer eradicated overall, not just in our flagship countries (Kenya and Peru), but globally. The HPV vaccine won’t be able to do that for quite some time, so boosting screening numbers in Peru and Kenya and then scaling to other countries is the primary pathway for getting there.”
Learn more about The WISH Revolution here.