by Susan Cotton, Executive Chair of the Board.
When I talk about The Lily Project and describe our early success in helping prevent cervical cancer in rural Nicaragua, people often assume we operate as a medical mission, with doctors and volunteers flying in to provide medical services for a couple of weeks at a time. I explain while we share some of the same measures of success, we are fundamentally different from that known model.
The Lily Project works to empower lasting improvements in the health and wellbeing of women and girls in rural communities where health-related issues are greatest. Nicaragua has one of the highest rates of cervical cancer mortality in the world both due to its inadequate health care system, with PAP screening available to less than 10% of women, and prevailing machista behaviors that propagate HPV, the virus that causes cervical cancer. To resolve this inequity, The Lily Project must provide access to preventive care (a structural issue) and advocate change in sexual behaviors (a cultural issue). Social change this significant requires an understanding and appreciation of the environment, clear vision of the future, adaptive model that brings them together and ability to sustainably scale. The Lily Project will achieve its goals by first going deep, then going wide.
We are grateful to the Friends of Lily for making our inaugural year a great success. We have relied on their expertise and resources to build out our solutions, and their financial support to staff our first Lily health team and equip a mobile health clinic.
Lily Is Saving Lives.
The Lily Project hosted its inaugural health event in February in a small fishing village on the Pacific coast of Nicaragua. When executive director and chief clinician Anielka Medina screened the women for cervical cancer using visual inspection with acetic acid (VIA), more than 10% had precancerous lesions and were treated immediately with cryotherapy. Julia, just 28 years old and a mother of four, had multiple high-grade lesions and needed to be referred to the hospital in Leon, many hours away, for treatment. Understandably Julia was terrified but after talking with Anielka, she agreed to go. The doctor found she had cancer, which had advanced to the point where she needed a life-saving hysterectomy. We checked in with Julia last month and are pleased to report Julia's recovery is going well. She asked Anielka to thank all of the Friends of Lily for making it possible to "mantenerme sana y con vida por el bien de mis hijos" (stay alive and healthy for the sake of her children).
Thanks to the Friends of Lily, Lily is on track meet its goal to screen 1,000 women in 2015.
# of Women Screened to date:
Eligible for treatment:
Lily is Empowering with Knowledge.
Shortly after we launched a curriculum to teach women about their reproductive system, we realized that we were hearing women describe their monthly menstruation as a ‘disease’ and despite having multiple children had no understanding of its relationship to fertility. With this new perspective, the Lily team introduced the “pulsera de poder” (power bracelet) as a tool for women and girls to better understand how their body works during their menstrual cycles.
· 3 educational sesions utilizing the power bracelet were held during school with girls in sixth grade. A total of 60 girls participated.
· 95% of the girls knew that the menstrual cycle was a normal part of how the women’s body works. 100% responded that they learned in school. The other 5% of the girls knew that the cycle was normal, but they considered it a disease.
· 100% of these girls have never talked to their parents about issues regarding their menstrual period, sexual health, contraception or family planning. All they know or have learned has been in school.
· 3 sessions with adult women utlizing the power bracelet were held during Lily Health Events. A total of 40 women participated.
· 90% thought that their menstrual period was a disease.
· 80% of these women did not know that menstruating was normal and 70% did not know they had one menstrual cycle each month.
· These same women are the mothers of girls who go to school. Since they did not have the opportunity to attend school, they do not have enough knowledge to teach their daughters and do not want to teach because they feel ashamed of their lack of knowledge.
News of Lily’s pretty “pulsera de poder” has traveled fast and draws women and girls to Lily Health Events. They come for the bracelet and leave empowered with knowledge about their bodies, and results of their cervical cancer screening plus treatment if necessary.
Lily is Engaging Communities
We are pleased to introduce our newest board member, Dr. Alvaro Garcia, Nicaragua’s leading expert in cervical cancer prevention. He believes sustainable solutions involve the entire community, especially men. Proof of this is in the results we are achieving through our collaboration with Enliven, a business incubator working with local cacao farmers in Nicaragua. As part of their experience with Enliven, farmers are being educated on the need for The Lily Project and asked to encourage their wives and others in the community to attend the events. Lily Health Events that have support from the men in the community are more successful than those where men are not involved. Dr. Garcia and The Lily Project board are working on a strategy to expand these types of collaborations and deepen our partnerships by offering sexual health education and tools specifically for men and boys.
All it takes is $10 to give a woman access to these life saving services
Lily’s model employs young Nicaraguans, recent university graduates with medical services degrees trained in lab analysis, pathology and epidemiology. This serves two purposes: to train and develop high-potential young graduates and launch them in careers; and to help achieve our cost-to-serve target of $10 per woman.
We couldn’t have achieved any of this without the Friends of Lily. Our 2016 goals are compelling – to introduce a 2nd Lily health team and screen more than 5,000 women by the end of the year. Please join the friends of Lily and bring health and hope to women who need it the most.