by Susan Cotton, Executive Chair
As we prepare to launch The Lily Project later this month (Mission: To deliver preventive health care to women in rural Nicaragua reducing the number of women newly diagnosed with terminal cervical cancer 30% by 2020) I have had the wonderful opportunity to meet with a quite a number of potential partners, donors and supporters. As I’ve shared our story, the most common reaction I’ve received is ”I honestly had no idea…” about this cancer, its prevention and why the work we are doing in Nicaragua is so important. To do my part for Cervical Cancer Awareness Month, I will be sharing information with all of you, with the hope that this knowledge will spread and do good things.
#3: A Drop of Vinegar…A Life is Saved
Given the lack of success in relying on Pap tests to prevent cervical cancer in developing countries, alternative evidence-based preventive measures are being developed and promoted. Global health organizations and advocacy groups, including the WHO and PAHO are investing in new screening methods and a simple ‘screen and treat’ approach. During the last decade, a great deal of research has been conducted that proves the efficacy and cost-effectiveness of these newer approaches in slowing the incidence of cervical cancer in developing countries, primarily in Africa and Latin America.
Visual Inspection with Acetic Acid (VIA). This screening test identifies pre-cancerous areas of the cervix by washing with simple distilled vinegar (acetic acid). When swabbed, abnormal lesions become white and can be seen by the naked eye or with low magnification. The advantages of this screening method compared to Pap tests are it is less costly, doesn’t require highly skilled lab technicians and offers an immediate result. One reason the Pap testing method has been ineffective in low-resource countries including Nicaragua, is it often requires multiple visits to complete a full screening given there is a relatively high rate of false positives and need for repeat exams. In Nicaragua, this will often mean women will travel great distances and need to leave their children at home, creating a lifestyle barrier that is difficult to overcome.
Screen and Treat. A method of combining VIA, with cryotherapy, which freezes and destroys abnormal tissue on the cervix, is a procedure being adopted to combat these issues. A discussion paper presented at the United Nations in 2011 recommends cervical cancer screening using VIA and treatment of precancerous lesions (through cryotherapy) as a 'best buy' because it a highly cost-effective use of health dollars, costing less than US$ 0.50 per capita to implement in low income countries. The procedure is beautiful in its simplicity: a trained health promoter swabs a women’s cervix with vinegar; infected cells, if any, become white; and cryotherapy is performed to freeze and destroy the abnormal tissue.
Leaving it up to a woman to travel to a clinic, hours away, to get a Pap test, then waiting months to receive her results, then traveling to a hospital even further away if treatment is required, is not a reasonable solution to this unreasonable problem. Instead, The Lily Project combines proactive outreach and sexual health education with a simple, cost-effective procedure to bring health to women in the communities we serve.
Up Next: The Lily Project Blooms in Nicaragua