Chronic Disease Management

“Emily is an indigenous woman from the community of Santa Lucia Utatlán. In the summer of 2012, she was diagnosed with a diffuse lymphoma. Working with her throughout the year, we have witnessed huge gains. After just 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 the important role our staff plays 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 extremely difficult for indigenous Guatemalans to access. Our work has shown that effective cancer treatment is possible when patients have a supporting organization like Maya Health Alliance that can provide information to patients in their own Mayan languages and handle the complex logistics of their care.

Treating cancer in Guatemala is particularly challenging. There is no system of screening in place to catch cancer early. Then, once cancer is diagnosed, arranging treatment is difficult since patients often don’t trust the medical establishment nor do they have the financial resources the treatment requires. Linguistic and cultural barriers, combined with the discriminatory practices of many healthcare providers, further deter many cancer patients from seeking care. This explains why more than 50 percent of indigenous cancer patients in Guatemala never continue past their first treatment visit. Maya Health Alliance addresses these complex issues by acting as cultural, linguistic, and medical liaisons between patients from Maya communities and the professional medical establishment.

To complement our cancer treatment program, we continue to develop our primary care and cancer screening programs, with the aim of catching cancers earlier so that the treatments will be much less disruptive to our patients’ lives.