Caroline Shermoen and Carolina Gomez Grimaldi
In the fall of 2017, we met with Natalie Kessler at a Charlottesville coffee shop to discuss our application for a CGH grant in order to continue the work she and Thrisha Potluri had started in Peru a year earlier. The main advice we took away from that meeting was to be flexible and expect the unexpected. This advice proved extremely apt, as the twists and turns our project took both before and during our travels were numerous; nonetheless, the experience was invaluable. The changes and our adaptations to them were part of the learning process – and learn we did.
Our first mission upon arrival to Peru was to establish contact with our NGO, Liga Contra el Cancer, and get to work on our local IRB approval. We were lucky to have our predecessors’ help getting some of the required format and information ahead of time, so we showed up to Liga’s offices with a copy in hand. We soon found out, though, that the formatting and content was stricter than imagined; luckily, our dedicated coordinator Yenny Bellido spent the next 8 hours with us reworking the proposal to fit requirements, ask more streamlined and intentional questions, and create a timeline. Spanish skills were absolutely essential here. As a team, we are extremely comfortable with our Spanish skills in everyday context, but the academic writing the procedure required challenged us.
Our next step was IRB approval. We took our proposal to the Universidad San Martin de Porres Medical School on Liga’s recommendation. We were told the approval process would take 1-3 weeks, so we decided to explore as much of Peru as we could while we waited, as IRB approval was necessary before beginning any aspect of our study. During this time, we were able to see the work of another NGO, Hands on Peru, which operates out of Huanchaco, Peru. Their community clinic in the low-resource Los Angeles neighborhood provides everything from health services to economic enrichment workshops for women. Seeing the grassroots, holistic work this organization and one of its founders, Katie Baric, does with such dedication and constant responsiveness to community needs was invaluable.
Finally, we received the call that our protocol was approved! We returned to Lima, and after a brief meeting with Yenny to figure out logistics, our interviews of Liga administrative employees, doctors, and mobile clinic patients began. The receptiveness and openness of each of these groups helped make each interview extremely informative. People were overall very happy to hear that work on preventative cervical cancer care was being done, recognizing the need in their communities. As we embark on the next journey of analyzing the data we have collected, we hope to come to meaningful conclusions which will help Liga better reach its patients and elucidate for us some key aspects of global public health initiatives. This way, we can begin to bridge the gap which has resulted in the untimely deaths of many women from a largely preventable cancer. Peru welcomed us with open hearts, and we hope our work will please those who worked so hard to support us.
“What stood out most to me through this opportunity was the complex texture of Peru and how it affected healthcare. While many of the issues that plague the system there are the same as the US (socioeconomic gaps, concentrations of healthcare in cities, misinformation), many are unique consequences of Peru’s history, culture, and most interestingly to me, its geography. While much of my time in undergraduate studies was spent talking about factors that prevent equitable access to healthcare, I had not until this experience truly understood the impact that barely surmountable mountain peaks, dense rainforests, and complicated waterways have. I really did learn something new every day and I am forever thankful for that.” – Carolina