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6th May 2015

Tackling cervical cancer in Nicaragua, without the help of pink ribbons

Pink ribbons remind us to take cancer seriously and get ourselves checked out, but in places where “pink” has yet to catch on, organisations like PATH are stepping in.

So at some point in spring, Europe becomes aglow with pink, and it’s not just the apple trees in bloom. Coats are decorated with pink ribbons, the brave among us wear pink heels and marathon runners adorn overlay their high tech gear with pink T-shirts.

This pink movement is widely known to be supportive of the most ‘famous’ of  ‘female’ cancers, breast cancer that is. And while it’s focused on breast cancer awareness, seeing pink everywhere can’t help but get us women thinking about other conditions that could affect us, like cervical cancer.

Once thought to be caused by promiscuous behavior and frequent abortions, cervical cancer is actually very common and affects 13.4% of European women, but with excellent recovery rates… at least in developed countries.

Living without the luxury of pink

Now imagine a world with no pink balloons and ribbons to remind you of the importance of screening and no regular pap tests to verify the presence of HPV – the virus that causes cervical cancer. Well that looks a lot like the situation in Monimbo… Monimbo you say? It’s a remote town in Nicaragua, about 30 minutes from the nearest hospital in the capital, Managua.

It also happens to be the home town of Jenny Perez Flores, the petite and smiley mother of three boys who was diagnosed with cervical cancer age 39.

Jenny survived thanks to a screening programme put in action by PATH – a non-profit organization aiming to make MedTech innovation available across the world. But cervical cancer affects four times as many women in developing countries as in the developed world and is often screened late, sometimes too late for any kind of intervention.

PATH is trying to reverse this trend by bringing the newest, lightest and most flexible screening technologies to places like Monimbo.

Through a collaboration with the company QIAGEN, DNA screening and VIA testing (visual inspection with acetic acid) have now been made available to health workers around the world.

These compact anti-cancer boxes are relatively simple to use, accurate and affordable and most importantly… extremely speedy, allowing more women to be screened and reducing the number of trips to the clinic.

This is part one of five in our series “From catchphrase to action” where we profile people and organisations moving beyond talk to find concrete solutions to global health issues.