In a bold step for the health of Guatemala's women, the country's Ministry of Public Health and Social Assistance (MSPAS) has released new national guidelines for the screening and prevention of cervical cancer.
The guidelines, presented publicly by the Health Minister on December 11, have the potential to save the lives of thousands of women–mothers, grandmothers, sisters, and friends–by giving health care workers leading-edge approaches to stop cervical cancer before it starts.
No woman should die of cervical cancer. The disease, caused by human papillomavirus (HPV), develops slowly and is preventable if precancerous lesions are caught and treated. Yet it kills an estimated 266,000 women every year–most in developing countries, where women lack access to effective vaccines, screening, and treatment. In Guatemala, cervical cancer took the lives of 1,393 women in 2012.
The new guidelines, developed by MSPAS with support from PATH, an international nonprofit health organization, and Union for International Cancer Control, will tackle this challenge by aligning Guatemala's response with global best practices. The country is the first in the Central American region to integrate updated recommendations from the World Health Organization (WHO) into national practice. Customized from the WHO's "menu" of preferred options for low-resource settings, the guidelines are designed to complement existing efforts and align with national resources and goals. In particular, they call for increased use of a new screening test that accurately and reliably identifies HPV by its unique DNA footprint and visual inspection of the cervix with ascetic acid, a proven and low-cost screening method that saves lives worldwide.
Over the next year, the MSPAS will continue to promote the new recommendations through a campaign that also includes training, workshops, and awareness-raising activities for health care personnel and other health leaders.
By introducing the new guidelines, the government of Guatemala is leading the way in the region, harnessing front-line, evidence-based approaches to protect and support Guatemala's women, and the families and communities who rely on them.