10 Weeks with Cervi Cusco

by Jessica Chen, MS2

While considering opportunities following my first year of medical school, I felt strongly about not only participating in scholarly work but more importantly in learning about and directly helping to provide needed services to a community. Seeking a way to meld my excitement for women’s health and connecting through language and culture, I spent ten weeks at Cervi Cusco in Cusco, Peru, working towards understanding how to effectively provide healthcare to women living in underserved, low-income regions of the country.

Cervical cancer is the third most common cancer found in women and the second most frequent cause of cancer-related death worldwide. Further, in Peru, cervical cancer stands as the leading cause of cancer-related deaths among women. It is, however, also a cancer for which there is not only the ability to screen but also the ability to prevent. Speaking to, working alongside, and getting to know the patients as well as the families and friends of patients at Cervi Cusco breathed life to these statistics, allowing me to appreciate the impact of the disease on individuals and the overall obstacles in access to quality, preventative healthcare in the area.

By organizing mobile cancer screenings, Cervi Cusco is able to perform cervical cytology testing (Pap smears) for women who otherwise would not have access to these services. However, one challenge that remains is the ability to follow up with these patients for the test results and subsequent treatment.

This opportunity allowed me to focus on this problem through survey-based research. Over the 10 weeks, I traveled to remote regions surrounding Cusco, helped to set up tents in community marketplaces, and administered cervical cytology tests as well as HPV vaccines while conducting research aimed to determine a novel incentive technique to improve follow up to care. I was personally able to administer 437 surveys, collect over 17,000 data points, and analyze statistics in an effort to improve the follow up to care for the patients we served. Most importantly, however, I was able to gain greater clarity into the challenges of these individuals and families by spending time and getting to know many of the marginalized farmers, families, and residents of the Andes countryside. In each of these interactions I began to better understand the barriers to care each patient faced, the backgrounds of the individual, and the needs of the community.

I plan to continue my research throughout my remaining years at Pritzker working alongside Daron Ferris, MD at the University of Augusta and Sonia Oyola, MD at the University of Chicago. I was supported in this research by the Pritzker Scholarship and Discovery Innovation Fund, by the Center of Global Health Global Health Scholarship, and by the Arnold P. Gold Foundation Summer Research Fellowship.