PORT-AU-PRINCE — At the back of a T-shirt factory in an industrial park north of Port-au-Prince, women line up for one of the country’s newest methods of cancer prevention.
The treatment room is bare bones: a dusty company clinic, three midwives and a single bed separated from lines of whirring sewing machines by a rough wooden wall and a thin blue curtain.
The next patient, who stepped away from the assembly line a moment earlier, climbs onto the bed and digs her heels into the edges of the mattress to allow the midwife, Nanotte Louis, to examine her.
Louis’ tools are simple. A light from a cellphone, a bottle of Heinz vinegar to test for abnormal cells on the woman’s cervix and a hand-held, battery-operated heat gun to zap any precancerous cells if the area turns “aceto-white” from the acid in the vinegar. Less than a minute later, it’s over — another woman treated to prevent cervical cancer.
Newly released cancer figures by the World Health Organization estimate the number of annual deaths in Haiti from cervical cancer to be 563. Healthcare providers operating the cancer clinic at the University Hospital of Mirebalais in central Haiti say it’s 1,500 or more, based on their data over the last 10 years.
But they all agree cervical cancer rates are high in Haiti, where “see-and-treat” programs like this one at the Caribbean Island Apparel factory are quietly gaining ground as a grassroots way to treat the problem in a country where rudimentary cancer care is as scarce as reliable electricity.
Cervical cancer is treatable. Why are women in Haiti still dying from it?
“The hardest part with … cervical cancer screening is we’re trying to convince a woman to take a test on a disease that she most likely won’t have and if she does have, she most likely won’t get symptoms for it for 10 years,” said Dr. Vincent DeGennaro Jr., the founder of Innovating Health International, which provides low-cost cancer care and is behind the factory screenings. “It’s difficult to convince people.”
And yet their lives could depend on it. The factory program is…