In February, Direct Relief partner, Dr. Daron Ferris from CerviCusco – an organization committed to preventing cervical cancer in Peru – and I had the opportunity to visit Barretos Cancer Hospital in Brazil for a Research Symposium on Cervical Cancer Prevention & Treatment in Latin America.
The Research Symposium was co-hosted by the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center, Rice University, and the Barretos Cancer Hospital as a platform for top cancer researchers working in Latin America to present their current work in the treatment and prevention of cervical cancer and network with each other for collaboration on future projects.
The Symposium was attended by 80 participants from nine countries and had representatives not only from the medical field but also from bioengineering, epidemiology, behavioral science, the pharmaceutical industry, non-governmental organizations (NGOs), student and research staff, and amazingly, even one former NASA astronaut now working with MD Anderson (I must confess this was one of many highlights for me).
Presentations ranged from cancer prevention, including incorporation of Human Papillomavirus (HPV) testing in screening protocols and use of mobile units for remote rural access to services, to treatment modalities involving surgery, radiation, and discussion of innovative treatment technologies on the horizon.
Breakout sessions were held each day for attendees to brainstorm new areas of research and collaboration, and each team was tasked with presenting 2 to 3 potential research studies in the following areas:
- Innovative Technologies for Cervical Cancer Prevention, Screening and Diagnosis
- Implementation of Cervical Cancer Screening, Prevention and Diagnosis
- Treatment of Advanced Stage Disease
The teams are now all back in their home countries and currently working on protocol development for the research studies proposed and agreed upon at the end of the Symposium.
In the off-time between Symposium activities, we had the opportunity to tour the amazing facilities of the Barretos Cancer Hospital. Like many of our partners, they started out small, founded by a married couple (both oncologists) with a deep commitment and desire to bring advanced oncology services to a rural area of Brazil.
Today, they are a state-of-the-art facility offering a dizzying array of specialized oncology treatments and every service is offered free of charge to those that do not have the means to pay (including all meals and lodging). The hospital is 100 percent patient-focused as evidenced by how each patient and treatment room is designed to maximize the comfort and well-being of the patient.
In an effort to provide services for the most disenfranchised populations, Barretos Cancer Hospital also operates extensive community outreach via mobile health units and have even opened their own mobile health unit factory on site – truly an impressive facility!
For Dr. Ferris and me, it was a fantastic opportunity to talk in depth with Barretos Hospital staff and learn from their expertise in the hopes of helping Direct Relief partners like CerviCusco embark on a similar successful trajectory of expansion to increase access to cervical cancer services for women.
Many thanks to corporate supporter BD, who made it possible for Direct Relief and CerviCusco to attend the Symposium and is a primary supporter of our cervical cancer work with the CerviCusco Clinic in Peru.