By: Kristin Rosella, Program Associate for Strategic Partnerships for Women Deliver
Thousands of women in low-resource areas of Mexico, Nicaragua, and Tanzania are now getting life-saving cervical cancer screenings through a unique public-private partnership between Grounds for Health, a U.S.-based nonprofit organization, and coffee-farming cooperatives.
Coffee is one of the most valuable commodities in the world, and the coffee industry employs thousands of women worldwide. While women workers are the backbone of this industry, coffee-growing communities are often located in low-resource settings where women have little or no access to health care, especially life-saving cervical cancer screening and treatment services—and women are dying because of it. Cervical cancer kills more than 270,000 women every year, and most of these women (85%) are in low-and middle-income countries. Yet, these deaths are preventable because cervical cancer is one of the easiest cancers to detect and treat when caught early. To make matters worse, cervical cancer not only negatively impacts a woman’s health and well-being but also destabilizes families and communities.
By developing sustainable and effective prevention and treatment programs with its coffee cooperative partners, Grounds for Health is working to stop cervical cancer deaths. Its programs and partners are reaching women who do not have access to these critical health services and are providing key resources, community outreach, and access to care to women in great need. To date, Grounds for Health and its partners have screened over 16,000 women in coffee-growing communities for cervical cancer.
The Grounds for Health model begins with a launch of a 5-day screening campaign where women from around the community travel to designated screening sites, hospitals, or health clinics. Since many of these women live in remote, rural areas and traveling to the screening sites can be difficult, the coffee cooperatives will often provide free transportation. Grounds for Health also brings in local volunteers, or community health promoters, who can educate their peers about cervical cancer and invite women to attend the screening campaign—a vital step because it helps men and women in the community understand the importance of cervical cancer prevention and reduces fears and myths about the screening and treatment techniques. During the training sessions, local doctors, nurses, and other health providers gain valuable experience that will enable them to continue the screening programs on their own long after the campaign ends. Typically, about 500 women can be screened, and treated if necessary, across a 5-day campaign.
Grounds for Health educates communities in the Single Visit Approach, which was developed by Jhpiego and is a proven method for screening and treating cervical cancer in low-resource environments. The approach combines Visual Inspection with Acetic Acid (“VIA”) and cryotherapy to create a simple, effective, and safe screening and treatment method. VIA requires vinegar, cotton swabs, and a light, and it can be as effective as a Pap smear in detecting pre-cancerous cell changes. If a woman receives a positive result from VIA, Grounds for Health and its partners offer same-day treatment with cryotherapy. The Single Visit Approach is particularly advantageous for the coffee-growing communities because it requires few resources, uses low-tech equipment, and provides immediate results.
And, Grounds for Health’s work does not end when the campaign does. Instead, the organization commits to at least a 3-year partnership with the coffee cooperatives and continues to work with them well into the future to ensure that they are building necessary systems for a sustainable health care program. Local health providers can even use the skills, resources, and infrastructure to expand health care in the region, providing other important services such as STD education, diabetes screening, and vaccinations. These partnerships are true examples of how change can happen by working together, across sectors and industries, to help ensure that women live healthier and happier lives.