Vinegar: a cleaner, a condiment, and a lifesaving tool
In Haiti, a common household item is saving women’s lives.
A mother of five, Emmanuela Joseph regularly visits the Profamil clinic in Port-au-Prince. A few months ago, a nurse explained that Profamil had a fast and accurate test to detect cervical cancer. Emmanuela agreed, and the test results showed precancerous lesions. That same day, she received treatment to remove the cancerous tissue.
Emmanuela is lucky: In developing countries, most women with cervical cancer reach health services only after the disease has reached an advanced, untreatable stage. Costly laboratory tests and equipment make screening for cervical cancer out of reach for many.
The solution to this problem is simple: visual inspection with household vinegar. When a trained service provider brushes a woman’s cervix with vinegar, the solution makes precancerous spots turn white. If spots appear, a woman can receive treatment to have the spots removed immediately.
After the earthquake in Haiti, our partner, Profamil, was one of the few local organizations providing essential health services. Profamil faced the daunting task of maintaining operations while rebuilding its clinics and replacing lost and damaged equipment. Despite these setbacks, they continued to provide vital reproductive health services, and innovation emerged.
Visual inspection is a screening technology developed specifically for low-resource settings. It eliminates the need for laboratories, requires little and inexpensive equipment, and provides women with immediate test results, making it possible to screen and treat women during the same visit.
"The seriousness of it didn't dawn on me until later," said Emmanuela. "I said, ‘God, please don't let me die. My children need me.’” Now, she brings her friends to Profamil’s clinic. “I'm back here because they helped save my life."
Profamil has trained all of its clinical doctors on how to do visual inspection. At just $6 per screening, the method is more cost-effective than alternative screenings, such as the Pap smear, which costs $18 at Profamil. The organization also works with the Ministry of Health to train new medical graduates.
Visual inspection can drastically reduce the incidence of cervical cancer in places like Haiti, where cervical cancer prevalence is among the highest in the world. So, we teamed up with Catapult, a new crowdfunding platform for global projects that support girls and women, to provide funding for Profamil's equipment to screen for and treat cervical cancer, and educational materials to train more providers in how to use this technique.
“Early detection and timely treatment are critical to effectively eradicating this preventable disease,” says Dr. Vicente Díaz, Deputy Director of IPPF/WHR. “Even one cervical cancer death is too many.”