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Empowering Women through Education and Advocacy in Breast and Cervical Cancer Prevention and Control

, by Diana Mendoza-Cervantes

The 1st Women's Cancer Summit brings together health care providers, advocates, and survivors.

Breast and cervical cancers are two leading causes of death among women worldwide. Countries in the northern Andean region face the highest mortality and incidence ratio for these cancers in Latin America. Poor outcomes in low- and middle-income countries have been attributed to a lack of awareness on the benefits of early detection and treatment, late stage detection, and limited access to cancer-related treatment.

In early spring the Center for Global Health saw the opportunity to better support Peru’s efforts in bringing attention to the role of education and advocacy in breast and cervical cancer prevention and control.  Through partnerships with the Peruvian Ministry of Health and the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) regional office, the first Women’s Cancer Summit was held in Lima, Peru. This unique training workshop brought primary-level health care providers from 26 districts together with patient advocates and survivors from Peru, Bolivia, Colombia, and Ecuador.

Dr. Aníbal Velásquez Valdivia, Minister of Health for Peru, opened the ceremony with Dr. Fernando Leanes, PAHO, Dr. Miguel Malo, PAHO, and Dr. Jo Anne Zujewski, CGH, NCI. The first two days of the Summit addressed breast and cervical cancer prevention, screening and diagnosis, the WHO cervical cancer guidelines, and the breast cancer Knowledge Summaries. The Knowledge Summaries are intended to prompt decision making at various resource levels by policy makers, healthcare administrators, and advocates engaged in implementing breast cancer control programs. The training was facilitated by faculty experts in breast and cervical cancer from the University of Washington, Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center, and PATH.   Additional experts included Peru’s National Cancer Institute, Instituto Nacional de Enfermedades Neoplasticas (INEN), Director, Dr. Tatiana Vidaurre, and others from the Ministry of Health.

The final day highlighted civil society, women’s empowerment, stigma, and the essential role women’s cancer advocates. Participants were moved as survivors spoke courageously on their difficulties of navigating broken health systems, and finding strength within the community. As discussions focused on patient perspectives, advocates emphasized the importance of women’s empowerment, mobilizing care in communities, and advancing education to dispel stigmas and misconceptions to prevent women’s cancers in the region.

The Summit was very well received, and provided advocates and survivors access to key experts and stakeholders in cancer control. I am grateful to have been a part of the Women’s Cancer Summit - an experience that broadened my understanding on the importance of advocates, primary care, and the mobilization of communities to support women suffering from this disease. Finally, I am excited to see how the partnerships formed during the visit will contribute to the notable, growing momentum around cancer control in Peru.

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