Women's Global Cancer Alliance

Archive for January, 2016

January 29, 2016New Social Media Director Joins WGCA Team by admin

Rebecca J. Burke has been working as a Social Media Director since 2015 and a graphic designer since 2007.

Rebecca J. Burke has been working as a Social Media Director since 2015 and a graphic designer since 2007.

Rebecca J. Burke is currently the volunteer Social Media Director for the Women’s Global Cancer Alliance. Her duties for the Alliance include writing articles for the blog and cross-posting them across various social media platforms such as Facebook and LinkedIn.

 

Rebecca started her career with a Bachelors of Fine Arts from the University of Louisville in 2007. She began as an intern with Norton Healthcare as a graphic designer. This led to a pathway of working as a designer for Humana, Juried Artist for Gallery 104 and Social Media Director for the PRstore. She also manages a successful freelance business with national and local clientele.

 

Besides her design career, she is an avid member of various professional groups and a dedicated volunteer. Her professional groups include: the AIGA, Arts Association of Oldham County and the Kentucky Watercolor Society. Volunteer groups include: Women’s Global Cancer Alliance, Girl Scouts of America, Kentucky Science Center, Boys & Girls Clubs of America, Norton Brownsboro Hospital and Actor’s Theatre of Louisville.

 

In her work for the Alliance, she truly believes she can bring her artistic skills to the table in order to raise awareness of the importance of the work being done in Haiti. She wishes to make a global connection to the women who need care in Haiti and is proud to do what she can.

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January 28, 2016Local doctor attacks cervical cancer in Haiti by admin

Dr. Robert Hilgers, right, shows directors from AmeriCares how screening and treatment work in the clinic in Gonaives, Haiti.

Dr. Robert Hilgers, right, shows directors from AmeriCares how screening and treatment work in the clinic in Gonaives, Haiti.

The 38-year-old mother of four had no idea anything was wrong. But a quick checkup at a new clinic in her native Haiti revealed several silently-festering precancerous lesions that could one day threaten her life.

Those lesions were frozen off in the same visit, the danger eliminated.

That’s the goal of the clinic recently opened by the nonprofit Women’s Global Cancer Alliance, which was founded by Dr. Robert Hilgers of Louisville. It’s a product of his passion – to ease the burden of cervical cancer in one of the hardest-hit nations in the world, where the disease strikes at a rate 12 times higher than in the United States.

While widespread screening keeps the disease at bay in America, Haitian women in the prime of life die frequently and needlessly from a disease that can be easily detected and stopped in its tracks.

The clinic is located above a clinic run by Colorado-based Health 4 Haiti in Gonaives, the third-largest city in this impoverished, earthquake-ravaged Caribbean nation. It cost about $50,000 to complete the second floor, half of which came from Health 4 Haiti and half from the alliance.

“We’re not looking just to save the women but the families, too,” Hilgers said. “You take the women out of the family, it may fall apart. They’re the ones that keep everything going.”

Jim Frey of Columbus, Ohio rode his bicycle 720 miles from Michigan to New York over nine days last fall, collecting donations totaling around $80,000 for construction and clinic operations. Frey, 69, “became smitten with the charity” after attending a fundraiser in 2013.

“I lost my father to cancer, my sister to cancer…,” he said. “(Eradicating) cancer is something that’s dear to my heart. What ‘Dr. Bob’ is doing is an awesome thing.”

Reducing cancer’s burden

Clinic Director Danta Bien-Aime examines a patient during the screening phase of the "see and treat" method through a colposcope .

Clinic Director Danta Bien-Aime examines a patient during the screening phase of the “see and treat” method through a colposcope.

Hilgers’ dream – to drastically reduce cervical cancer — is possible, as the United States has shown.

Widespread Pap smear screening has brought down incidence and deaths here by more than 60 percent between 1955 and 1992, according to the National Institutes of Health. The incidence of cervical cancer is now about 7.7 per 100,000 women in the United States, compared with 93 per 100,000 in Haiti. Screening not only detects cancer early, it allows doctors to identify precancerous lesions so they can be removed before they turn into cancer.

But Pap smears are a luxury in a nation where the average per-person income is only about $400 a year. Doctors are in short supply, so women often have to travel long distances for health care, which can be expensive and time-consuming.

Complicating matters, preventive care is not part of the culture for poor Haitian women; “they ordinarily do not go to the doctor unless they’re sick,” Hilgers said. And they don’t know much about the disease, so they don’t recognize its symptoms or realize it’s caused by the sexually-transmitted human papillomavirus.

As a result, Haitian women die at a rate 30 times higher than in the United States, with 1,500 women in the nation of roughly 10 million succumbing to the disease each year. Doctors say the death is excruciating. Untreated cervical cancer grows, pushes into other areas of the body, obstructs the urinary tract and causes irregular bleeding, anemia and immense pain.

“In the Third World, cervical cancer is the No. 1 cancer killer of women,” said Susan Long, a part-time nurse practitioner at the University of Iowa who works in women’s health and has done mission work in Haiti several times.

Hilgers has seen such suffering first-hand in his job as a gynecological oncologist, sitting at the bedside of patients dying of advanced cancers. While those patients are the exception here, they are the rule in Haiti. More than 80 percent are diagnosed in the latest stages of cervical cancer, and there’s little palliative care for the terminally ill.

“Not uncommonly, the best they’ve got is Tylenol,” Hilgers said.

Stopping a killer

Clinic Director Danta Bien-Aime and Associate Director Emilie Chery sign up the first patient to the be screened in the clinic.

Clinic Director Danta Bien-Aime and Associate Director Emilie Chery sign up the first patient to the be screened in the clinic.

Knowing the grim reality, Hilgers couldn’t turn away.

Early efforts involved briefly screening women at a clinic in Gros Morne, Haiti, with which the alliance is no longer affiliated. The alliance opened its permanent Gonaives clinic on June 30.

Clinic staff includes a director and associate director, who are both nurses, a local physician who serves as medical director, and a local church pastor who serves as business manager. They rely on thousands of dollars in medical equipment and supplies from the Louisville group Supplies Over Seas, which provides the goods for a small donation.

When patients arrive, they are screened for free with the so-called “see and treat” method, using household vinegar to identify suspicious cervical lesions and then freezing them off during the same visit. (New patients, but not established ones, pay a $2 facility fee to owners of the building, but nothing for care.) The see-and-treat method is quicker and cheaper than Pap smear screening, doesn’t require a lab and has been deemed safe and effective in poor countries by a World Health Organization report.

“Because we’re able to see and treat, it only requires one visit,” said Jane Younger, who chairs the cancer alliance board. “Given the poverty in Haiti, it becomes extremely difficult for women to get from one area to another.”

Younger said she hopes the Gonaives clinic is only the beginning.

“Ultimately, the broader vision is to replicate the clinic in another location,” she said. “We have to continue to raise funds.”

Hilgers said he’d like to see a network of clinics someday. He’d also like to see the HPV vaccine used widely in Haiti because it could also go a long way toward preventing the disease.

In the meantime, he’s been concentrating on education – of the clinic staff and of patients. Long plans to accompany Hilgers to Haiti in January to share their expertise with clinic nurses, in the hopes that those nurses can then train other health care workers in their country — and all of them can educate local women about the need for preventive care.

But Hilgers said it will take the combined efforts of many organizations, and a greater awareness of the problem globally, to make significant progress against the deadly disease.

“Over 90 percent of all cervical cancer is in developing countries….We have a chance to eliminate it, but it’s years off,” he said. “There’s a lot of promise. But I’ll tell you, there’s a lot of work ahead.”

Reporter Laura Ungar, who also covers public health for USA TODAY, can be reached at (502)582-7190 or lungar@courier-journal.com. December 24, 2015.

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