Our solutions are tailored to the communities we serve
For more than a decade, PATH has worked to meet the needs of diverse communities in Latin America. In many areas of this region, infrastructure is fairly reliable. Urban areas have ready access to health services and supplies, and one important indicator of health—knowledge of contraception—is nearly 100 percent. But pockets of extreme poverty do exist.
From 2003 to 2012, our office in Nicaragua served as a base for our work in Latin America. We currently have an office in Lima, Peru, which opened in 2006.
Cervical cancer prevention
In rural areas throughout the region, we have nurtured emerging health systems to meet people’s basic needs. In villages deep in the Peruvian rainforest, we worked with the Ministry of Health and the Pan American Health Organization to test new methods of cervical cancer screening. If screening showed a need, we provided same-day treatment to prevent the disease from claiming women in the prime of their lives.
We are also helping prevent cervical cancer by preparing the way for the new HPV vaccines. We provided decision-makers, including government partners in Peru, with the information they needed to decide whether and how to add the vaccines to their health programs.
Community-based response to breast cancer
Breast cancer incidence is rising steadily in many low- and middle-income countries as women live longer and their lifestyles change in ways that increase risk factors. As with many other diseases, the burden falls more heavily on poor, marginalized, and rural women who have unequal access to screening and treatment. Due to lack of services, poor access to the care that might exist, and scant information about breast health, women in poorer countries are far more likely to progress to advanced disease than women in the United States and Europe.
Our work spans a range of interventions that, together, constitute comprehensive breast health programming. For example, in Peru we trained general doctors and midwives in clinical breast exams and identified strategies for bringing diagnostic and treatment services closer to women’s homes. We are collaborating with the Peru National Cancer Institute, the Regional Cancer Institute in Trujillo, and the Ministry of Health to improve access to and quality of breast cancer screening, diagnosis, and referral for treatment at lower levels of the health system in an effort to find and treat breast cancers earlier.
Meeting basic nutrition needs
Another leading health problem in the region is malnutrition, which can lead to maternal death during childbirth, as well as birth defects and poor mental and physical development in children. Our Ultra Rice® technology adds nutrients to the rice-based diets of Colombian school children and soon, we hope, to nutrient-deficient populations in Brazil.
Helping youth thrive
Where infrastructure is in place, PATH focuses on tapping into communities’ inherent strength and their established networks to help youth thrive. In an urban district of Managua, Nicaragua, where drug use and violence are common, we helped young girls discover the knowledge and confidence needed to navigate the risky waters of adolescence. We also worked with teachers and mothers to help them support girls on this journey.
In another effort to help youth, we trained pharmacists and behind-the-counter pharmacy staff to provide up-to-date, nonjudgmental services. Pharmacies can be convenient, affordable, and anonymous first stops for reproductive health information and supplies. Without a trusted source like this one, youth are more vulnerable to unintended pregnancy and sexually transmitted infections, including HIV.
Policy and advocacy
PATH furnishes policymakers and health workers with timely, reliable, and accurate information on important health topics. Our periodic publication Outlook is translated to Spanish—and sometimes Portuguese—and distributed to health care providers in the region. Our website on cervical cancer also has resources available in Spanish. These resources are just two of many that we make available to help our public health colleagues keep abreast of current trends and make informed, evidence-based decisions.
Through technology development, we work to expand women’s options for contraception and protection from unwanted pregnancy and sexually transmitted infections, including HIV. Women in the Dominican Republic, through fittings and testing, have helped us design a new woman’s condom that is comfortable and in their control.
A private-sector partner in Argentina produces and sells PATH-developed HIV dipstick tests for use in public health surveillance programs, laboratories, and blood banks.
Collaboration is a cornerstone
In Latin America, as elsewhere, collaboration is a cornerstone of our success. We partnered with the Pan American Health Organization to produce Violence Against Women: The Health Sector Responds, a practical tool for international health programmers working to end abuse of women. Building on this work, we are now serving as the technical secretariat for the Latin American Consortium on Gender-Based Violence and Health. Member organizations are international and local groups that want to help the health sector better respond to domestic and gender-based violence.
Wherever practical, we conduct activities with and through existing channels: pharmacies, midwives, women’s groups, schools, ministries of health, commercial manufacturers, and local organizations. We bring ideas, resources, and more than 35 years of experience in international public health. Our partners in the region contribute their own experience, knowledge, and community connections to ensure the relevance of our work and to extend its reach.
Photo: Miguel Alvarez.