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Program Launched to Reduce Deadly Cervical Cancer in Haiti

The Associated Press
By David McFadden
December 02, 2016

(Click here to view the original article.)

ST. MARC, Haiti (AP) — A pilot program was launched Wednesday to battle deadly cervical cancer in impoverished Haiti, which has the world's highest rate of the preventable disease.

Roughly 3,000 Haitian women get cervical cancer each year and about half of them die from the illness. But pointing to successes in developing countries in Africa and Asia, physicians say improvements in cervical cancer prevention, screening and treatment can have a big impact in protecting girls and women in this hemisphere's poorest nation.

Expectations are that the two-year initiative launched by Zanmi Lasante, the Haitian program of the Boston-based nonprofit Partners in Health, will screen 20,000 women for cervical cancer and vaccinate some 6,000 girls against the strains of human papillomavirus that most commonly cause the illness. Prevention activities will also reach roughly 60,000.

Dr. Jacklin St. Fleur, medical director of St. Nicolas Hospital in St. Marc, a commune in western Haiti where the pilot program will be focused, said he hopes the political will is there to expand the cervical cancer effort into a nationwide effort. In recent years, the Haitian doctor directed a national cervical cancer prevention program in Rwanda.

"This is a preventable disease. If we work hard and educate our girls and women we can prevent it," St. Fleur said after giving U.S. Ambassador Peter Mulrean a tour of the hospital, the primary hospital for Haiti's Artibonite region. The U.S. Agency for International Development is supporting the program.

In developed countries, older girls and women routinely get Pap tests to check for cervical cancer or signs of precancerous changes in cervical tissue. They're treated, often before cancer begins, and few die. That's not been the case in poor countries, where most women killed by cervical cancer each year live.

Midrine Louis, a 52-year-old cervical cancer survivor who says she has been successfully treated with the help of Zanmi Lasante, said she is spreading the word among friends that a cervical cancer diagnosis need not be a death sentence in Haiti.

"I have a friend who now has cervical cancer and I am encouraging her, telling her there is hope for her future if she gets the correct treatment," she said.

Zanmi Lasante has plans to coordinate with drugmaker Merck & Co. and nonprofit AmeriCares for donation of vaccines and other supplies. They will also collaborate with Haiti's health ministry to develop a national cervical cancer prevention strategy.