Basic Health International and Cervical Cancer Screening in El Salvador

Our friends at Basic Health International (BHI) are have been in the news quite a bit lately. Last month, Dr. Miriam Cremer and BHI were written-up in the New York Times for their efforts to combat cervical cancer in El Salvador. BHI is using a new screening technology called careHPV to detect early signs of cervical cancer, especially in rural and under-resourced populations. Dr. Cremer says BHI plans to screen 30,000 Salvadoran women over the next two years.

Yesterday they held an event with the Ministry of Health and MD Anderson to sign a memorandum of understanding (MOU) that will “strengthen their commitment to work cooperatively to impact cancer and especially highly preventable diseases like cervical cancer.” The event yesterday was part of a cervical cancer prevention symposium taking place this weekend in San Salvador.

BHI is a non-profit organization striving to eradicate cervical cancer and improve women’s health in Latin America and the Caribbean, with a large presence in El Salvador. They focus on four areas: patient care, medical training, health policy, and research. BHI offers women training on how to use the careHPV screening, and for those with abnormal cells they offer free treatment, including housing, transportation, and meals while at the clinic San Salvador. The BHI staff also trains local health promoters on how to give cervical cancer education, and local doctors in the low-tech see-and-treat VIA and cyrotherapy.

BHI is partnering with Ministries of Health in Latin America to improve cervical cancer screening programs and education, and help Ministries develop training manuals. Their research focuses on cervical cancer screening methods, cervical pre-cancer treatment, screening and treatment service-delivery, and contraception methods.

Cervical cancer is one of the leading cancer killers of women worldwide. Gynecological visits and pap-smears have worked to reduce the numbers of cervical cancer deaths, especially in the developed world. Low-resource areas of the world do not always have the availability of equipment, trained medical professionals, and funding to administer these life-saving exams. Additionally, gynecological exams may be frowned upon or discouraged in some cultures, which make the administration of such tests extremely difficult. Traditional tests require multiple visits and this poses problematic for impoverished and rural women because of logistics, time constraints or finances to return to the clinic or doctor.

CareHPV is a screening method developed by Quiagen (a Dutch Company). It’s a DNA swab test that identifies the papillomavirus that causes cervical cancer. The test is revolutionary because it can be self administered by women in their comfort of their own homes. The test does not require running water or electricity, which is ideal for impoverished women in rural communities. Results are available within two and half hours so if administered in a medical office setting, screening and treatment can happen in the same visit.

BHI is one of those international organizations that really impacts quality of life for women throughout El Salvador and Latin America. Dr. Cremer and her teamwork tirelessly to make sure that fewer and fewer women die of a treatable disease.

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