Community-Based Cancer Care

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From the 2012 Annual Report, which can be accessed here.

Wuqu’ Kawoq | Maya Health Alliance (WK) has focused this year on improving our capacity to treat cancer. Treating cancer in a Guatemalan context often involves facing the same challenges that act as a barrier to clean water, early childhood nutrition and basic acute medical care. Patients do not have the financial resources nor the trust of the medical establishment required to catch cancer early and effectively treat it. Moreover, once diagnosed, complex cancer treatments are difficult to arrange, given linguistic and cultural barriers, and often traumatic to undergo due to the discriminatory practices of some healthcare providers. It’s these factors that underlie the fact that more than 50 percent of indigenous cancer patients in Guatemala never continue past their first treatment visit. By acting as a liaison between the communities in which we work and the wider medical establishment, WK has been able to improve access to cancer care.

Emily is an example of the kind of patient we are able to help: A 50 year old K’ichee’-speaking woman from the community of Santa Lucia Utatlán, she was diagnosed over the summer with a diffuse lymphoma. Working with her throughout the year, we have witnessed huge gains. Even after the first two rounds of chemotherapy, her swollen glands shrank significantly, reducing much of the pain associated with the disease. Now, after eight rounds of chemotherapy we are expecting a full recovery. This is a great result, especially after a scare during the first half of her treatment, when Emily developed an infection due to her weakened immune system. Because we follow our patients closely during treatment, we were able to catch it early and get it treated in the hospital. This just illustrates how important a role WK staff play in supporting our patients’ cancer treatment.

One might think that the biggest barriers to cancer treatment in Guatemala are technological, and that adequate care is simply not available. Our experience is that cancer care is available, but simply extremely difficult for Maya to access. Our work has shown that effective cancer treatment is possible when patients have a supporting organization like WK that can provide information about a patient’s cancer and treatment options, while arranging the logistics of their care and supporting its administration. We’re looking forward to continuing and improving this work in 2013.