A former long-term volunteer for Common Hope recently returned to Guatemala with new skills and resources to offer the country—a great example of how a legacy of volunteering can continue throughout one’s career. Nearly finished with her Master’s in Public Health from the University of Texas, Sarah Schwaller made the trip to organize a cervical cancer summit for Antigua-area health providers.
Sarah got the idea of bringing groups together after attending a similar summit in Texas. The Guatemala event, which took place this June, focused especially on women at high risk for cervical cancer, those who have never been screened for the disease. It was attended by more than 100 people, including staff from various NGOs and the Ministry of Health as well as local community leaders.
High rates in Guatemala
Cervical cancer is the most common cancer for women in Guatemala, and hundreds of women die of it each year in the country—yet it is highly treatable when caught early. “It is possible to make this disease a non-issue in Guatemala,” says Sarah, “but this will be impossible without everyone taking an active role in prevention and treatment efforts.”
A number of NGOs, including Common Hope, are providing important services in screenings and treatment, but many women still don’t know about the services available and their importance. Sarah says the conference was a great avenue for encouraging conversations among community leaders on addressing these challenges—how they can all work together to raise awareness and reduce cancer rates.
Many local leaders share knowledge
Presentation topics ranged from the symptoms of cervical cancer to its prevalence in Guatemala to prevention of the disease. Presenters included the director of the local Institute of Oncology (INCAN), the regional coordinator of the Guatemala Ministry of Health, and a panel of NGOs that work on cervical cancer prevention. Attendees also broke into small groups to talk about challenges and priorities in prevention of the disease.
A number of Common Hope staff participated, including Dr. Walter Estrada, Antigua Clinic Director, Dr. Paula Figueroa, and Tamalyn Gutierrez, Country Director. Dr. Estrada said he appreciated the idea sharing very much and said he came away with a different method for cervical cancer screening that allows for same-day screening and treatment.
Importance of health education
Sarah says the biggest challenge in preventing and treating cervical cancer is reaching women who have never been screened. “It requires appropriate health promotion strategies to educate and promote screening and any necessary follow-up,” she says.
Sarah was in Guatemala for three months planning the summit, and she stayed at Common Hope’s Antigua site during that time. “Common Hope was very supportive of the idea to organize the conference,” says Sarah, “valuing the strength found in collaboration and dialogue between public and private sectors.”
A continuing conversation
This summit could be only the beginning of increased collaboration between Antigua health providers regarding cervical cancer. Says Sarah, “The hope is that people will continue the dialogue after conference and work to promote and make screenings more widely available to local communities.”