Louisville doctor battles Haiti’s deadly cervical cancer

2013-11-17HaitiDreams1Dr. Robert Hilgers of Louisville, shown during a recent trip to Haiti, is working with others toward creating a cancer registry for the nation. / Photos courtesy Dr. Robert Hilgers

….cervical cancer kills Haitian women at a rate 30 times higher than in the United States. Each year an estimated 1,500 women in the nation of roughly 10 million die from the disease — more than from any other type of cancer.

It’s why Hilgers has made it his mission to attack the disease, which is preventable and treatable if found early.

Hilgers founded the nonprofit Women’s Global Cancer Alliance, which created a screening clinic in a hospital in Gros-Morne, Haiti, that has already treated 2,000 women and is raising money to open another, with hopes of creating a national network of clinics.


An enormous burden

Cervical cancer strikes hardest in impoverished regions and countries. Although there are no definitive statistics because Haiti lacks a cancer registry, global health officials estimate that the disease strikes Haitian women at the world’s highest rate — 93 per 100,000. That’s more than 12 times the U.S. rate.

In the United States, widespread Pap smear screening has reduced cervical cancer prevalence and deaths dramatically since the 1950s because it allows doctors to identify precancerous lesions and remove them before they turn into cancer.

Dr. Jean Ronald Cornely, director of the cancer program in the Haiti Ministry of Health, said the country has no large-scale screening program of any kind. Pap smears are a luxury in a nation where the average family lives on $3 a day.


since there are no pathologists outside the capital of Port-au-Prince. Tucker estimated that if all goes smoothly, Haiti should have a hospital-based registry in about a year, and a more useful population-based registry, which tracks all cases regardless of where they are treated, within five years.

Eventually, doctors hope to employ another weapon in the war against cancer in Haiti — vaccines for girls and young women against HPV strains that cause most cases of the disease.

“You get your foot in the door and save mothers,” Heppermann said. “Then, you can eventually get to the daughters.”

With a concerted effort — and ongoing global cooperation — Hilgers and others said it may be possible to someday eliminate the scourge of cervical cancer in Haiti.

“It’s a small world, and we need to help each other when we can,” Tucker said. “So that’s what we’re doing.”

Read more here: http://www.courier-journal.com/article/20131116/NEWS01/311170016


About fromourisland

Gardener, knitter, wife, mother of 2, grandmother, and lots more.
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