Pro Mujer began offering routine Pap smears when it first opened its health clinic in El Alto, Bolivia, 15 years ago. Now, thanks to obstetrician-gynecologist Dr. Victor Conde and Pro Mujer’s preventive health campaign coordinator Gaby Quispe, our El Alto facility is pioneering the use of a test that allows immediate on-site detection of precancerous and cancerous cervical lesions, as well as the use of an inexpensive, low-tech therapy to remove these lesions on the spot.
Historically, whenever Pro Mujer’s clients show signs of cervical cancer or precancerous lesions, we advise them to visit a Health Ministry clinic. But some of the women fail to do so because they don’t believe they are sick, their husbands don’t let them or they are simply afraid. In June, Pro Mujer contacted these clients and offered them appointments during a special three-day program. Most of them kept these June appointments with us because they know we provide prompt, free quality care. In fact, even a few women who were no longer Pro Mujer clients attended these cancer screening/treatment sessions.
From June 18-20, Dr. Conde taught 10 of our doctors and 12 of our nurses to perform the test known as visual inspection with acetic acid (VIA). The test confirmed the presence of precancerous cells in most of the women, and some of them were immediately treated with cryotherapy, which destroys abnormal tissue by freezing and requires neither hospital visits nor expensive equipment. Our staff were deeply moved when they saw the faces of these women—one a former Pro Mujer employee in Bolivia—as they were told they had just been saved from certain death.
At the end of the third day, two doctors and three nurses chose to undergo screening. Their negative results were a very positive and welcome outcome. Even more important, by the conclusion of the program Pro Mujer in Bolivia had advanced from cancer detection to cancer treatment, an exciting breakthrough for our organization—and an essential step towards wellbeing for all our clients in the region.
In the coming months, training, VIA screening and cryotherapy sessions will be held in Sucre, La Paz, Trinidad and Santa Cruz.