Doctors Claudia Camel and Ana Maria Terraza are the two main gynecologists for the cervical cancer team of the health center in Zone 1, Guatemala City. Zone 1 is a notoriously dangerous neighborhood in Guatemala City, known for the violence and poverty that unfortunately define the lives of many its residents.
When we visited the health center, they were in the process of completing annual check-ups, screenings, and treatment for women who had been previously found positive for high-risk HPV. When women are tested positive with high-risk HPV, they come in for a check-up once a year to receive screening and colposcopy. In the colposcopy, the doctors use a device called a colposcope to get a close look inside the cervix for any potentially cancerous lesions.
If the doctors find any lesions, they will immediately treat them before they become cancerous. The clinic comprises a very small space —an outdoor waiting area of about three benches, a small inner chamber where a nurse can take a patient’s information and blood pressure, and one small private room where all the treatment and screenings take place.
The doctors and health staff at this clinic put a large emphasis on making the women who arrive for their screenings comfortable, knowledgeable, and reassured about their diagnosis, treatment, and the topic of cervical cancer at large. In the past, they described having significant trouble getting patients diagnosed positively for high-risk HPV into the clinic for follow-ups and treatment. Patients would then return later on with advanced cancer and smaller chances of a full recuperation.
In the past year of its operation, the clinic has made many changes including placing a large focus on maintaining their patients and making the one annual consultation a comfortable and accessible appointment for the women. Many of the women in the waiting area were very nervous and refused photos for this reason, but their connection to the gynecologists and health staff was evident. Any women who arrived next door at the family planning clinic (including many young mothers and pregnant women) also receive a small educational talk on cervical cancer and were given a HPV test administered on the spot.
By informing women, offering them screening services, and following-up with them when further evaluation and treatment was needed, the Zone 1 health center has greatly increased its ability to prevent cancer for many women. Additionally, through outreach activities like distribution of HPV tests around the Guatemalan countryside and communities, the staff of this center is also significantly increasing the numbers of women who have access to cervical cancer screening.