Women's Global Cancer Alliance

Archive for March, 2016

March 21, 2016Rotary Club of Louisville, Member Spotlight: Robert D. Hilgers by admin

DrBobRobert D. Hilgers, MD, MA, CAE

Dr. Hilgers is President and CEO of the Women’s Global Cancer Alliance (WGCA). The WGCA works to advance women’s health, addressing particularly those in need of cancer care in developing countries. 80% of cancers in women occur in developing countries where only 5% of resources are available for care. Dr Hilgers is a board certified Gynecologic Oncologist and Professor Emeritus at the University of Louisville School of Medicine.


He has been in leadership positions most of his life serving close to 30 years in various positions as Professor of Gynecologic Oncology, Division Chief and Department Chairman. He trained in Obstetrics and Gynecology at the Mayo Clinic (Rochester, Minnesota) and in Gynecologic Oncology at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center in New York City. He served as the first formally trained gyn oncologist at the University of New Mexico where he founded the Division of Gynecologic Oncology. He subsequently became an examiner of candidates aspiring to become certified by the American Board of Obstetrics and Gynecology in both Obstetrics and Obstetrics as well as in Gynecologic Oncology.


He is a founding member and first President of the Memorial Gynecologic Oncology Society and served as President of the Western Gynecologic Oncology Society. He is a founding member of the International Gynecologic Cancer Society (IGCS) where he served first as Secretary Treasurer and then as its first Executive Director. In 2003 he was designated as one of the World Oncology Leaders by the American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO). He is past President of the Metro Louisville American Cancer Society. Currently, he serves on the Humanitarian Committees of the American Society of Colposcopy and Cervical Pathology (ASCCP) and of the Greater Louisville Medical Society (GLMS).


He is a member of the Society of Gynecologic Oncology, the Society of Pelvic Surgeons, the American Society of Association Executives, The American College of Obstetrics and Gynecology, the American Society of Colposcopy and Cervical Pathology as well as the International Society for the Study of Trophoblastic Disease and the International Network for Cancer Treatment and Research (INCTR). He is 2 past member of the Society of Gynecological Surgeons and the European Society of Gynecologic Oncology. He has served as consultant on editorial boards of several peer reviewed medical journals. He is the author of 120 publications and has cared for over 1000 women with cancer of the cervix.


In 2005 he founded the Kentucky Cervical Cancer Coalition (KCCC) in an attempt to raise awareness of our need to eliminate cancer of the cervix in Kentucky women through early vaccination and regular Pap Smear screening. He serves on the state Cervical Cancer Medical Advisory Committee and the Kentucky Medical Association Cancer Committee.


In 2008 he founded the Women’s Global Cancer Alliance (WGCA) to draw attention to women without access to treatment in developing countries.


In 2009 he went to Zambia to study their Cervical Cancer Prevention Program – noted to be one of the best in the world addressing cervical cancer in a developing country.

In June 2015 he opened the first full time cervical cancer screening and prevention clinic in Gonaives, Haiti – serving the 90% of impoverished of the community at no charge.


His past achievements include being named Honorary Consultant, Charing Cross Hospital and Westminster School of Medicine in London, England; Honorary Professor at Sun Yet-Sen University of Medical Science in Guangzhou, People’s Republic of China; and Honorary Member of the Argentina Association of Gynecologic Oncology, Buenos Aires. He has lectured in Florence, Fukuoka, Seoul, Guangzhou, London, Buenos Aires, Bangkok, and Port au Prince. He has also been an observer of health care in Tibet, Nepal and Cambodia.


His career is further distinguished by being named one of Best Doctors of America, Best Doctors for Women, America’s Top Oncologists and is cited in the International Who’s Who of Professionals as well in the International Directory of Distinguished leadership.


In 2015, he received the Akin Humanitarian Award from the United Nations KY and became a graduate of the Rotary Leadership Institute.


Dr. Hilgers is a lifelong student. He holds a Master’s Degree in Health Care Management and is a Certified Association Executive (CAE). He is an avid photographer and continues to witness the best of Haiti through his photos.


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.


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.

October 15, 2013What would happen to this baby… by admin

Haiti Mom w Baby  

…if mom dies of cervical cancer?

Help be part of the beginning of the end of cervical cancer in Haiti.

WGCA is working to raise $25,000.00 toward the completion of its first “See and Treat” clinic in Gonaives.

October 15, 2013Haitian Batik Project continued by admin

The ladies of Gonaives take a portion of their proceeds from the Batik scarf sales to support their families and local economies.  They allocate the rest to help fund theGonaives Cervical Cancer Prevention Project to bring the WGCA model clinic to their city.

Imagine if they can do this to help their family, friends, and neighbors, what can we do?

Go to our donation page today and give what you can.  No amount is too small.


HaitiBatikClass 132 HaitiBatikClass 208   HaitiBatikClass 204  

Want to see more pictures, purchase a scarf, and learn more about the Haitian Batik Project?  Click the link here to go to their site: Haitian Batik Project website

September 15, 2013WGCA at the Idea Festival by admin


Wow!  WGCA has been granted a special meeting at Louisville’s Idea Festival later this month.  WGCA will have 5-10 minutes to give a presentation on our work to eradicate cervical cancer in Haiti, and then the expert panel will brainstorm possible solutions.   How lucky are we?

June 25, 2013Supplies Over Seas Recognized for Good Work by admin


Supplies Over Seas on KET

  Click on the above link to check out our partner, Supplies Over Seas (SOS).  They were featured on KET for their mission to support the world’s most medically impoverished communities.  (Sounds kind of familiar, doesn’t it?)   We are grateful for their help in putting together a pallet of supplies and equipment and shipping it to Gonaives for our first model clinic.  We look forward to working with them as we get the clinic up and running.   Congrats to our fellow Louisvillians on the good work they’re doing all over the globe.    

April 25, 2013The vulnerable… by admin


No mom?  Who would care for this toddler and baby?

Sadly, Haiti has the highest incidence of cervical cancer in the world – an annual rate of 93 new cases per 100,000 people – and no cancer treatment facilities. Pap smears and Pathologists are limited in a country this poor. The disease strikes females of all ages, but a majority are in their 30’s and 40‘s, many with young children.

January 1, 2013What’s Your New Year’s Resolution? by admin


Resolutions have been on my mind lately as we’ve moved into a new year.

According to Webster’s Dictionary, resolution has multiple meanings and


Resolution is “a formal expression of opinion, will, or intent by an official body or assembled group. ”   WGCA has issued a clear resolution: eliminate cervical cancer in Haiti.  We’ve garnered support from the Haitian government, the Haitian medical community, and from organizations all over the world to do this.   Perhaps the most applicable definition for WGCA:   a resolution is an answer to a problem. We’ve identified the problem – the scourge of cervical cancer is devastating millions of Haitian women and families.  We’ve identified the solution.  The “See and Treat” method of screening for cancer of the cervix is the resolution to this devastating problem.   How do we know this will work?  Resoluteness is the “Firmness of opinion; assured knowledge:  certainty.”  Dr. Bob has traveled to Africa to study the Zambian model that uses “See and Treat,” and he is resolute in his belief that this model will also work in Haiti.   What’s your New Year’s resolution?  If you don’t have one, feel free to adopt ours.    

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