Eye-opening trip to Africa

By Emily Mountney, The Intelligencer
Wednesday, December 18, 2013

AMREF Canada intern Jordan Jarvis

A Belleville woman better understands the challenges faced by Africans with cancer after an internship to the continent.

Jordan Jarvis, 26, has returned from spending six months in Kenya as part of an internship through the African Medical and Research Foundation (AMREF).

She is one of 10 Canadians who have completed an internship with AMREF in sub-Saharan Africa, supported by the Department of Foreign Affairs, Trade and Development (DFATD, formerly CIDA) through the Government of Canada's Youth Employment Strategy.

During her internship, Jarvis worked on two major projects, one being improving cancer control.

“I have a background in cancer research and my work specialized in international health policies related to cancer control at World Health Organization,” she said. “So it was nice to go with AMREF and be able to work on this, they haven't been doing a whole lot and there's a lot of misconceptions of cancer being a disease of rich countries and of the elderly which is not true. Cancer is a huge problem in Kenya and other African countries.”

Jarvis said various challenges face the residents of communities she visited when it comes to dealing with cancer.

She said in many areas there is little awareness of cancer. In some African tribes it can even be seen as a form witchcraft.

In Kenya, accessibility to cancer screening is limited to about a five kilometre radius of Nairobi.

“This means that a lot of people can't even get to the services,” said Jarvis. “Also, diagnosis often comes at a late stage and this makes treatment very difficult.”

Financial barriers create another challenge.

“Even in Canada there are financial issues when someone is facing cancer. In Africa, those problems are just exacerbated,” said Jarvis.

“There are some women who say they would rather get AIDS because at least the drugs are free,” she said.

Before taking the internship, she was in Switzerland working for the World Health Organization (WHO).

“I felt really far-removed from the communities that a lot of the WHO policies and guidelines affect, they're usually written for low and middle-income countries but you're sitting in Switzerland in an office writing these policies so what I really wanted to do was to have that developing-country experience.”

She said her experience has given her a good understanding of some of the issues that face different communities in Kenya and east Africa.

“I think that understanding is really critical,” she said. “If I want to be involved in developing different programs, it will be helpful in that way and I also want to be involved in policy so you really have to have that grasp of what's happening on the ground.”