Melissa Amisi Sharufa founded a non-profit cancer organisation, Bomoko Foundation in 2017, following a number of cancer-related deaths in her family.
The Bomoko Foundation was founded to reduce cancer-related mortality in the Democratic Republic of Congo. The organisation focuses on five types of cancer – breast, cervical, prostate, colon and leukaemia. Melissa works to raise awareness, increase access to screening and diagnosis, and referral to treatment, as well as support for vulnerable patients.
The Foundation’s strategic partnerships with health and screening centres have enabled it to reduce the costs of screening in order to promote a culture of early detection and systematic routine examinations for Congolese people. The Foundation has initiated a number of awareness programmes in local communities to provide people with the right information about cancer.
These programmes have been rolled out in various communities – churches, military and police camps, associations, orphanages, companies, schools and universities.
Melissa has also set up a website that helps to popularise cancer information, as well as an information centre in the city of Kinshasa that welcomes people who want to know more about the disease.
Melissa is driven by the population’s ignorance of this disease, and poor management of the disease locally, evidenced by cancer patients receiving treatment abroad or through traditional medicine, the absence of a government policy on cancer as it is not yet considered a public health priority nor are there national statistics for cancer, and most importantly, by the powerlessness of the poor in the face of this disease.
She began the foundation using her own funds, and it is currently found in five provinces in the DRC, reaching 50 000 people with awareness-raising initiatives and supporting more than 200 patients. In February 2018, Bomoko organised the inaugural International Conference Against Cancer Africa (ICACA) in partnership with the Minister of Public Health.
The conference focused on perspectives and challenges related to prevention, and cancer research in Africa in general. It brought together more than 500 participants comprising different health stakeholders, members of government, ambassadors and other delegates from across Africa. She credits Sylvia Bongo Ondimba, first lady of Gabon, as her role model in the fight against cancer.
Melissa says that one of the biggest challenges she has experienced is in trying to convince decision-makers at all levels to get involved in this fight.
Despite many pledges, Melissa admits that many do not honour their commitment to assist. The organisation is still working on an effective fundraising mechanism in a country where the majority of the population does not use the banking system.
She is encouraged to keep going when she sees the smile on the long-frustrated face of a person suffering from cancer, who previously had no options and no financial means to cope with their diagnosis.
Today in the DRC the Bomoko Foundation has become synonymous with cancer, and many people refer to Melissa as the “Cancer Ambassador” – a title she has willingly embraced and has even adopted as her handle on Twitter. She says the problem is that in the DRC, cancer is still considered as a disease for the rich or a superstition, and she is working tirelessly to fight these misconceptions.
In the next five years, Melissa would like to be the spokesperson for the cause of cancer at the United Nations and World Health Organization. The foundation was able to acquire an unfurnished building that will allow it to build a reception and oncology centre that will offer a temporary and warm stay for cancer patients and promote access to screening and optimal treatment at a considerably reduced cost.
She is currently seeking funding for this project that aims to meet the needs of the underprivileged population. She envisions the growth of the international conference on cancer in the DRC and Africa as a whole.
Bomoko has designed a nationwide awareness programme called the Expanded Awareness and Screening Program (EASP). Through the programme, the foundation plans to sensitise at least one million people and screen up to 30% of them.
Melissa is also working on ensuring that the Human Papilloma Virus (HPV) vaccine is introduced into the public health programme, as planned by the Ministry of Health, by 2023. She is advocating for her government to make cancer a public health priority, leading to a National Cancer Control Plan for the DRC. She would like to see the SADC region adopt a better public health policy and a cancer-free generation.
Melissa believes The Young Independents Top 100 enables young social entrepreneurs to showcase their community work and provide an international platform to scale their projects.