PLATTSBURGH — Nicaraguan women are 8 to 10 times more likely than Americans to develop cervical cancer.
“It is the No. 1 cancer to cause fatalities in women ages 30 to 60,” says Karen Case, a nurse midwife/nurse practitioner and volunteer with North Country Mission of Hope.
She is one of an all-female team of heath-care providers traveling to Nicaragua in March to hold clinics offering pap smears, breast exams and HIV testing.
“The general vaccine that wards off cervical cancer in the Central American country is not available to the general population there,” said Dr. Roger Patnode, who heads medical projects for Mission of Hope.
“It’s really a cancer that shouldn’t be happening. Cervical cancer is treatable.”
Medical care provided by Mission of Hope has evolved greatly since the first contingent of volunteers began efforts in Nicaragua 15 years ago.
Then, huge crowds turned out to seek treatment at a clinic that offered what help it could in a kind of a stop-gap fashion.
“When we did the big clinics ... you were ‘putting your thumb in the dike’ kind of thing,” Dr. Kathleen Camelo said.
Eventually, the Plattsburgh-based humanitarian-aid organization established a clinic that operates year-round, with other health-care opportunities made available during the missions that take place at least twice yearly at various locations.
Then the group began looking for projects that could be started and completed within the confines of specific mission trips, with long-term benefits.
Starting in about 2009, Mission of Hope began holding clinics for breast health exams and to perform pap smears.
If cervical cancer is diagnosed, there is access to treatment, Patnode said.
During a 2010 mission, Camelo recalled, a woman who had tested positive for cervical cancer the previous year showed up at the clinic.
“She came back to see us and thank us for saving her life.”