AORTIC is not only an academic meeting but is also a chance to network.  One of the new networking groups that has been launched at AORTIC is PAWAS: Pan African Women’s Surgeons group.  The project has been spearheaded by Dr Miriam Mutebi(Kenya) and Dr Liz Travis (USA).

The aim of PAWAS is mentor women surgeons, to provide a collaborative framework for research and to promote women’s health in Africa.  The inaugural meeting was held at the Association Amal in Marrakech.  The association Amal is a women’s centre who empower vulnerable women and give them training in the hospitality industry.  We had a delicious 3 course meal and between courses were given topics to discuss: how to be a mentee and how to promote scientific research. 

The evening event was followed by a round table discussion attended by representatives of many American and European organizations as well as medical personnel from Africa. Dr Rayne started the discussion.  She was asked to prioritize the needs for promotion of health care amongst African women:
            Ensure appropriate resources
            Ensure electricity in health care centres
            Set pathological guidelines and standardize reporting
            Utilise Redcap system for collaborative research
She urged PAWAS not to concentrate exclusively on women’s health issues.

The rest of the meeting was spent discussing why women with breast cancer in Africa are diagnosed so late and what can be done about it.  The following points were made:

            The need to understand cultural issues:
Many women are fatalistic.  By addressing the lump in the breast, their natural fate may be changed so they may be reluctant to undergo invasive treatment while they feel well.  (The counter argument is that HIV patients agree to treatment before they are symptomatic)
The belief that breast disease is caused by social factors resulting in consultations with traditional healers.
Women should be asked why they have presented late so issues may be identified.

However, Africa is a huge continent made up of many cultural groups.  We should not assume that what is true in one area is true in another.

Integration of health services
Combine breast and cervical screening with HIV testing.  Models that have been shown to work elsewhere should be employed initially.  Any interventions should be assessed.

Important to combine PAWAS projects with advocacy groups.
Should educate scholars: teenagers could become cancer ambassadors

Health Personnel
Doctors and nurses need to be educated.
There need to have access to journals
Doctors need help with writing manuscripts and doing research

Thank you to Dr Mutebi and her team for setting up this initiative.

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