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Putting an End to Cervical Cancer
This weekend, health providers and advocates throughout the world pause to recognize World Cancer Day and recommit to a comprehensive and effective approach to combatting cancer throughout the world.
In Latin America and the Caribbean, prevention, detection and treatment of cancers is a core part of the comprehensive suite of sexual and reproductive health services offered by our local partners. Non-communicable diseases are increasingly affecting individuals—particularly poor individuals and those living in rural areas—where the diseases impose heavy burdens on already fragile health systems.
Take cervical cancer, which is a key component of our work due to its prevalence throughout the region. In the early part of the 20th century, cervical cancer was the leading cause of death among women. Today, nearly 300,000 women die each year from this preventable and curable form of cancer.
The good news is that cervical cancer is one of the most preventable cancers when caught early. Among medical professionals there is a consensus that vaccinations, regular Pap smears or visual inspections with acetic acid performed by a trained health provider, and HPV tests help prevent and detect cervical cancer.
For many women, however, regular Pap tests and vaccinations remain out of reach. Weak health systems, high health care costs, lack of transportation, and restrictive policies prevent many—especially women living in rural areas and adolescents—from accessing regular preventative care. In countries like Bolivia, the risk of mortality from cervical cancer is seven to eight times greater than the corresponding estimates for Spain and the United States.
That’s why our local partner in Bolivia, CIES, has rolled out a comprehensive response aimed at reaching the most vulnerable women and girls with care and support. This response included providing rural communities with cancer education, screenings, and treatment.
Berta Nuñez Garcia is a volunteer health promoter with CIES. Berta lives in a small indigenous community in the mountains of Bolivia called Casapa. Through CIES’ mobile outreach program, health workers visit this remote community to bring contraception, care during pregnancy and cervical cancer screenings and treatment to women who would otherwise go without.
“All the women in our community have decided to get examinations and screenings for cervical cancer since it’s so common,” said Nuñez. “Before, we didn’t know anything—there was a lot of illness and death. I too suffered these problems. And was diagnosed with cervical cancer. I was afraid but thanks to the support of CIES, I am alive today.”
Today, on World Cancer Day, these are the programs and services we should invest in to prevent the senseless deaths of women like Berta and millions more.
Click here to watch a short video and meet Berta.