My name is Anne Worth, and I am a fourth year medical student at Ohio University Heritage College of Osteopathic Medicine. I will be traveling to Peru for a month-long medical rotation in the city of Cuzco. This blog is part of the academic course work for my rotation, and I hope it will serve as an update for my family and friends as well (I’m still alive, Mom!)
So far in my medical training, I have developed a particular interest in women’s health, so I have selected a women’s health clinic, CerviCuzco, from which to base my rotation. This clinic was established to provide women in Peru with better access to health care, especially cervical cancer screening. Unfortunately, Peru has one of the highest rates of cervical cancer in the world, and cervical cancer is the most common cancer among Peruvian women. Each year, 35 out of 100,000 women in Peru are diagnosed with cervical cancer, and 16 out of 100,000 women die of the disease. Compare this to the US, where less than 8 women per 100,000 in the U.S. are diagnosed with cervical cancer, and less than 3 per 100,000 die of cervical cancer each year.
There are many misconceptions about cervical cancer–both in the United States and around the globe. Some erroneous health care beliefs regarding the HPV vaccine include: it makes girls more promiscuous, it’s not safe, it doesn’t work, cervical cancer is genetic. I read one article in which a Peruvian mother expressed concern that the HPV vaccine would cause her daughter to become infertile, a concern not unique to Peru, but yet another health myth that has to be overcome. In the past 15 years, there have been various efforts by the Peruvian government and foreign health care organizations to bring Peruvian women increased access to health education, HPV vaccines, and cervical cancer screening. These programs have met with reported mixed success, often dependent on the amount of funding and resources available. I hope to see first hand what public health programs are up and running currently, and how effective these are in reaching Peruvian women.
As for my role at CerviCusco, I have heard that I will be doing a lot of female exams, pap smears, breast exams, and just whatever else needs done. Outside of clinical preparation, I have been reading about health care in Peru and taking an online medical Spanish course. Spanish is the most commonly spoken language in Peru, but many of the citizens (up to 30%) use Quechua in daily conversation. I’m afraid I won’t be much help with the Quechua, but I’m hoping to dust off my Spanish and, in time, communicate more with patients. I’m cognizant that there will be some sensitive medical conversations at the clinic, so I want to make double sure that I know how to discuss things properly in another language. There will also be four PA students and an ob/gyn resident at the clinic around the time that I arrive, and in a couple of weeks about twenty nursing students will join us. I believe everyone else is from Georgia. Should be a good group.
Well, my bags are packed, let’s hope my suitcase fits on the plane. Included are 4 boxes of examining gloves, my stethoscope, dried soup packets, an HIV prevention kit, and books by C.S. Lewis and Isabel Allende (thanks Laura and Jenny for lending them to me!)
Thank you for reading, hope you are all well! ~Anne
P.s. For clarification, the city of “Cuzco” can be spelled both with a “z” and a “c”, not sure why. But you can go to cervicusco.org to see more about the place I will be volunteering.