The Quest to Cure Cervical Cancer in Rural Peru

How a Team of IBM and BD Volunteers Are Helping a Local Clinic Save Lives in Peru’s Andes Mountains

By Gina Tesla and Paula Kapotes

With over half a million cases reported each year, cervical cancer is the third most common cancer in women worldwide and the leading cause of death for Peruvian women aged 15 to 64. Peru has one of the world’s highest rates of cervical cancer – 115.4 cases per 100,000 – which is twice the rate in South America and 10 times higher than in the United States. Those hardest hit are indigenous women living in inaccessible villages deep in the Andes Mountains surrounding Cusco, Peru. In this region, close to four out of every 10 women who contract cervical cancer will die a slow, painful death from a disease that is treatable if detected early.

When Dr. Daron Ferris visited Peru 10 years ago, he was shocked at the devastation cervical cancer was having on women and families. “In developed countries, women get regular check-ups and Pap tests,” Dr. Ferris explained. “But in remote regions like the Andes,” he said, “there is a lack of a healthcare infrastructure and a largely impoverished indigenous population disenfranchised from the political process.”

The Director of the Gynecologic Cancer Prevention Center at Georgia Regents University, Dr. Ferris had many decades of experience diagnosing and treating cervical cancer. After exploring how he might help, Dr. Ferris founded CerviCusco, a Peruvian nonprofit clinic dedicated to preventing cervical cancer through education, screening, diagnosis, and treatment. The clinic met with some early successes and caught the attention of Direct Relief (DR), one of the leading humanitarian organizations in the world. “Direct Relief has been working closely with the CerviCusco clinic since 2013, and we have been so fortunate to join in this effort with Becton, Dickinson and Company (BD), with which Direct Relief, shares a strong commitment to women’s health and a history of working together on humanitarian health programs,” said DR’s CEO Thomas Tighe.


An outreach clinic in Peru.

BD agreed to send volunteers to assist CerviCusco over a three-year period—from 2014 to 2016—during which time the company also donated tens of thousands of cervical cancer screening test kits. In total, BD has committed to provide CerviCusco with $1 million in donated products and services. To make CerviCusco sustainable, however, Dr. Ferris needed help in other areas, including long-term strategic planning and a streamlined IT infrastructure.

As BD was about to send its first team to CerviCusco in early 2014, leaders of its Volunteer Service Trip (VST) program were attending an international conference on corporate volunteering sponsored by PYXERA Global, an organization that promotes partnerships between the public, private, and social sectors. After hearing Gina speak about CSC’s work in developing countries, Jennifer Farrington and Paula, who jointly manage BD’s VST program, met with Gina and her team and learned IBM’s CSC was also planning on sending employees on a pro bono consulting assignment to Cusco, Peru. It turned out to be a perfect match. From a strategic perspective, working together would prove to be a major step toward helping CerviCusco become sustainable, so we decided to merge teams. IBM’s CSC members would handle IT and management-related issues, and the BD team would handle medical-related issues.

The CSC/BD team worked closely with the clinic’s staff to develop a comprehensive strategic business model for CerviCusco that included plans to launch an Electronic Medical Records (EMR) program and increase revenue by expanding services and hiring a Director of Business Development who would oversee the execution of a marketing strategy, using new collateral materials and a social media campaign to increase the donor base.

“The CSC/BD proposed business model was a roadmap for sustainability,” said Farrington. “Having this kind of high-level support from two major international corporations was a dream come true for CerviCusco.”

When BD volunteers returned to CerviCusco in 2015, they began implementing recommendations of the CSC/BD team. “That team essentially developed our future with respect to sustainability and IT performance,” said Dr. Ferris. “The plan called for strong partnerships locally; and I knew if we implemented it and it became sustainable, I could see it being replicated in other places around the world.”

Sujoy Sen, who works for IBM Singapore, was a member of the CSC/BD team. One of the major results of the work, he said, was “to get the CerviCusco folks thinking about organizing themselves to look at their challenges from a long-term perspective and not just in the short term. This involved making sure their plans allowed for the right technology to support an increasingly larger workload, expanding their revenue base, and expanding their branding efforts from marketing to public relations.”

As of today, Dr. Ferris reported CerviCusco is well on its way to achieving its goals. The clinic has successfully launched an Electronic Medical Records (EMR) system, streamlined its IT Infrastructure, and updated its database. The new Director of Business Development has developed a communications plan featuring interviews with patients and volunteers, to raise the clinic’s profile. Clinic staff have deployed an educational training program for healthcare volunteers, and construction of a new laboratory is underway. Recently, the clinic launched an updated website, supported by Facebook and Twitter outreach.

img_2297According to Dr. Ferris, the ultimate measure of success of the CSC/BD team’s contribution to CerviCusco is in helping save lives. And that’s what’s happening. “We have accomplished widespread coverage of our program in the region and continue to increase numbers of women served,” said Dr. Ferris. “We are detecting more disease earlier and averting its progression, which is essential, and also performing more lifesaving surgical procedures for women who have no other recourse.”

“It was a privilege for Direct Relief to work with the IBM / BD team to help CerviCusco in its goal to improve access to care for underserved women in the Cusco region at high risk for cervical cancer,” said Direct Relief CEO Thomas Tighe. “The IBM/BD collaboration is a model of how combining resources thoughtfully can have a powerful multiplier effect and result in a far greater contribution to improving the health and lives of people affected by poverty around the world.”

As of today, Dr. Ferris reported the CerviCusco Clinic, has seen more than 51,000 patients; and counting those they’ve reached in remote regions, it had screened over 100,000. “The CSC/BD team has placed us on an incredible trajectory we never imagined,” he said. “They’ve outlined plans for us for the next 3 to 5 years. It’s been a step-by-step sequential plan to allow us to achieve our dreams that we never thought would be realized.”

p-kapotes-headshotPaula Kapotes, M.S.

Senior Program Manager/Marketing Communications

BD (Becton, Dickinson and Company)

Paula Kapotes has worked at BD, a global medical technology company, for 19years.  She is currently a Senior Program Manager in the Marketing Communications department supporting Global Health and Social Investing.  Ms. Kapotes is a member of the Associate Engagement Core Team at BD.  She manages the volunteer recruitment, selection and orientation of BD volunteers, as well as internal communications and promotion of the BD-PEPFAR and Volunteer Service Trip programs.

Ms. Kapotes has made several trips to Haiti with BD’s Social Investing team and in-country partner, Heart to Heart International, as well as Peru with Direct Relief, to assess needs and determine how BD volunteers can make a sustainable impact.

Ms. Kapotes earned her Bachelor’s Degree from Marymount Manhattan College and a Master of Science in Health Communications from Boston University.

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