Politics, Business & Culture in the Americas

Dispatches: Tracking Cancer in the Guatemalan Highlands



A dusty, pocked ribbon of road winds up and down through the rugged mountains of Alta Verapaz, an extremely remote, mostly indigenous area of Guatemala. Temperatures rise and fall according to elevation, and the air is thick with smoke from the traditional burning of cornfields and from deforestation by fire. This land provides subsistence for an estimated 1.2 million Q’eqchi’ Mayans, who have clung tenaciously to it through colonization and the ravages of civil war. Little has changed here over the centuries.

I recently spent a week traveling this road as a member of a unique medical team involved in a pilot program for screening cervical cancer in poor indigenous women. We visited four communities. At each one, more than 100 women of all ages, attracted by the announcement of our visit on the radio, were already crowded around the village health center when we arrived.

The contrast between a modern facility in Guatemala City or Antigua and the neglected buildings that serve as health care facilities in the remote villages of Guatemala’s northwest highlands is stark…


Tags: Cancer, Guatemala, Health, Rick Renwick, women
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