Minister Patty García (center) and partners
By Meera Sarathy, Country Program Manager at Pink Ribbon Red Ribbon . . .
Every five hours, a woman in Perú dies of cervical cancer.
Luckily, the Ministry of Health of Perú is committed to changing that. Last week, the Ministry of Health disseminated new guidelines for the management of cervical cancer and announced plans to implement a new screening program. These initiatives will increase access for cervical cancer screening and control to the most vulnerable women in Perú, and Pink Ribbon Red Ribbon (PRRR) is proud to support the program.
On February 16, 2017, Pink Ribbon Red Ribbon, the Ministry of Health, and other partners, including the Pan-American Health Organization, Basic Health International, and the Program for Appropriate Technology in Health (PATH), met in Lima, Perú, to discuss these new cervical cancer policies and programs. The next day, the Ministry hosted an open meeting with the above partners; representatives from the Peruvian health, military, and social security sectors; and representatives from the Ministries of Health from Argentina, Ecuador, El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras.
Dr. Patricia García Funegra, the Minister of Heath of Perú, opened the meeting, discussing the burden of disease of cervical cancer in Perú and the existing standard of care for management of cervical cancer. She introduced Dr. Miguel Malo of PAHO and Celina Schocken, CEO of PRRR, who reiterated their support for the roll-out and implementation of these new guidelines. As Ms. Schocken said, although cervical cancer is currently the leading cancer killer among Peruvian women, “With the leadership shown from Perú, this is a problem we can address.”
The new guidelines include molecular testing for the human papilloma virus (HPV), the virus that causes most cervical cancers. Dr. García presented on HPV testing, speaking from her experience as a researcher and renowned cervical cancer expert. She led a testing program in Callao, Lima through her previous post as Dean at the School of Public Health at University Cayetano Heredia and presented the program, which included HPV testing through self-sampling, education through community health workers, transport of samples via motorcycle to a central laboratory, and return of results via SMS messaging. The project was incredibly successful: 96.1% of women given test kits returned samples, and 94.7% of women who tested positive consented to follow-up with colposcopy, Pap smears, or biopsy. These encouraging results will allow the Ministry to use best practices in the national response.
Representatives from other Central and South American Ministries of Health presented on their experiences in introducing HPV testing for cervical cancer control. The lessons learned and best practices from these programs will be crucial to Perú’s success, and demonstrate exciting south-to-south collaboration. International partners then presented on other aspects of cervical cancer control and the support that can be offered to the Ministry of Health. Dr. José Jerónimo from PATH presented on ablative treatment devices. Dr. Bill Steiger, Chief Program Officer at Pink Ribbon Red Ribbon, presented on the support PRRR has given to national cancer control programs and the Improving Data for Decision-Making in Global Cervical Cancer Programs (IDCCP) toolkits, that will help Perú monitor and evaluate the new programs.
Finally, Dr. Gino Venegas of the Ministry of Health introduced the new guidelines in more detail. All women who test HPV positive will be referred for screening, through the visual inspection with acetic acid (VIA) method or Pap smears, and for treatment through ablative therapies, such as cryotherapy and thermal coagulation. These guidelines will first be implemented in Tumbes, in the far north of Perú on the Ecuadorian border, in July 2017.
The meeting demonstrated the Government of the Republic of Perú’s commitment to improving women’s health. Pink Ribbon Red Ribbon is proud to support the Ministry of Health and partners in this exciting new program to improve the lives of Peruvian women.