Recently Anielka was interviewed by our partner TogetHER about The Lily Project’s response to Covid-19.
1. How have you and your organization been impacted by and adapted to Covid-19?
The short answer is it has impacted everyone and everything. Our teammates have lost family members and friends to Covid-19. Most tragically for The Lily Project our esteemed board member and medical director Dr. Alvaro Garcia died from the virus after catching it while treating others.
Prior to the pandemic Lily’s model centered on providing in-person screening and treatment with mobile health clinics traveling to rural communities. With the growth of COVID-19 temporarily grounding Lily’s mobile clinics, we initiated a pilot program to evaluate the potential to deliver sexual health services virtually, via mobile phones and WhatsApp. We use Digital Health Education to increase women’s understanding of their bodies and encourage actions to improve their sexual health. Telehealth supports Lily’s mobile clinics’ delivery of in-person care with appointment setting and personal health reminders. It also makes it possible for The Lily Project to deliver more services and address complex sexual health needs by providing virtual consultations with medical and mental health specialists. Results of the pilot test are extremely positive and we are working toward a future where Lily is delivering essential sexual health services through an integrated in-person + virtual women’s health platform.
2. What concerns you most about women’s health in low-resource countries during the pandemic? What is your organization doing about it?
The pandemic has had an outsize impact in low-resource countries where basic women’s health services were already limited. This is definitely the case in Nicaragua, which has been experiencing a socio-economic crisis since 2018. With the arrival of Covid-19 the availability of women’s health services to prevent and treat disease, including basic medications, has declined even further. In many countries including the United States, violence against women is increasing. Nicaragua is experiencing this with a documented increase in gender violence and femicide.
During this time The Lily Project is providing:
Navigation - We resolve simple problems such as ensuring proper medication for a vaginal infection and through the support of our partners resolve more critical issues such as care for late-term miscarriages.
Virtual Care – We are working with mental health specialists to provide pro-bono services to Lily’s clients experiencing abuse and trauma.
Advocacy – We believe the plight of women in Latin America deserves more attention. Armed with Lily’s data and stories of the women we serve we hope to create awareness of the needs of these women to encourage others to advance the sexual and reproductive health and rights of women in Nicaragua.
3. How do you see cervical cancer prevention – the HPV vaccine and screen-and-treat –coming back after the pandemic? What can we do now to prepare for the resumption of services?
Even before the pandemic Nicaragua did not have a national program underway for the HPV vaccine or HPV test - primarily focusing on Pap testing to prevent the disease. We believe this is likely to continue post-pandemic, at least for the near-term. But when the vaccine and test are available in Nicaragua The Lily Project plans to become part of the distribution process.
Until the Covid vaccine is widely available, The Lily Project will change its process from large screening and education events that typically would serve 80-100 women per session to scheduled individual screening and treatment appointments. First priority is to serve women on Lily’s ‘watch-list’ – those requiring treatment or are “Pap-positive” and being monitored. Virtual appointment setting and reminders makes Lily’s new in-person delivery model possible. Additionally, sexual health education and interventions to encourage special actions will be delivered virtually.
4. What is something you have learned during Covid-19 that makes you hopeful?
This time has taught us so much.
For one, we have been reminded of the value of our extensive data collection. When Covid-19 started to hit, we realized we still had a way to connect with our 20,000+ clients via phone and WhatsApp. Most women in rural communities have their own mobile phone and it has become a lifeline.
As the pandemic has progressed we’ve committed more time to our team’s development. I am so proud of the empathy and respect each nurse has for her clients. This translates into a ‘listen-first’ approach, with clients opening up and sharing their physical, emotional and mental health concerns. No longer are we simply the organization helping them stay cervical cancer free but Lily is now also helping them understand how to own their bodies and their health.
I am full of hope when I realize the impact we will make in the lives of other women will be even greater than before!