By Susan Cotton
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.
#2: Why Nicaragua?
Cervical Cancer is NOT an equal opportunity cancer. Today, more than 85% of cervical cancer deaths occur in low resource countries, where health systems are not equipped to provide broad-based and high quality screening or the necessary follow-up and treatment for women with early stages of cancer. Without proper screening and treatment, most women don’t discover they have the cancer until it has advanced to a late and deadly stage. According to the Society of Obstetricians and Gynecologists of Canada, left untreated, “growths on the cervix enlarge, pushing in through the vagina and into other areas of the body causing irregular bleeding and obstruction of the urinary tract. Women will essentially bleed to death and die from anemia and uremia…To die of cervical cancer, without access to medication, is excruciating.”
Despite the introduction of Pap Testing in the 1960s, regular Pap screening is available to less than 10% of women in Nicaragua. Cervical cancer remains the largest cancer killer of women in Nicaragua, which is burdened with the highest annual rate of death from cervical cancer of any country in the Americas.
Cervical cancer in Nicaragua disproportionately affects rural coastal communities where there is very limited access to preventive health care including Pap tests and a high incidence of sexually transmitted disease. Additionally when cancer is discovered, these communities do not have the resources to treat the woman and help manage her pain – contributing to a horrible death and compounding the tragedy of this preventable disease.
This disease often hits women with children - and with an estimated 40% of households managed by a woman without a partner or spouse - it destroys families and leaves children on their own, with extended family or at the care of the community. Cervical cancer is one of the many contributors to Nicaragua’s extreme rural poverty where more than 68% of the population lives on a little more than $1.00 per day.
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