Women's Global Cancer Alliance

Blog

October 10, 2018A Legacy of Service by admin

WGCA proudly announces the appointment of our founder Dr. Robert Hilgers as an honored member of the Haitian Society of Obstetrics and Gynecology (SHOG). Dr. Bob was selected for his work to prevent and treat pre-cancerous lesions of the cervix in Haiti and dedication to the progress of Haitian women. Congratulations, Dr. Bob!

October 10, 2018Saving Lives for 10 Years by admin

  October 10, 2018–In 2008 a collection of committed individuals and health organizations from around the world banded together with a single goal: to reduce instances of cervical cancer among women in low-resource countries. And, the Women’s Global Cancer Alliance was born and established its headquarters in Louisville, Kentucky. During the first 10 years, WGCA focused on impacting cancer in Haiti, where 90 percent of the population have no access to cancer treatment or screening services and thousands of women suffered needlessly from preventable cervical cancer. WGCA funded and constructed the only women’s cancer screening and treatment clinic in Gonaives, Haiti. The staff of local health care professionals has screened more than 2,000 women against cervical cancer, saving lives through early detection and treatment of a deadly disease. To help local families stay healthy and receive needed medical services, WGCA provided $95,000 to support a children’s hospital and clinic in Gonaives. Through our relationships with local government and community leaders, WGCA is expanding care and services to offer HPV testing and vaccinations to more people in Gonaives and surrounding communities. Thanks to the generosity of donors from around the world, WGCA is impacting cancer every day. To join us in saving lives, click here.

October 4, 2018Last Week in Haiti by admin

OCTOBER 1, 2018—Last week our clinic in Gonaives saw seven women from Leogane. They invested $6 to $8 USD each for a 6-hour one-way ride in a cramped second-hand school bus with no air-conditioning or security protection. Women also travel to our clinic from Port Au Prince and other neighboring towns after being referred by local health care providers.

March 21, 2016Rotary Club of Louisville, Member Spotlight: Robert D. Hilgers by admin

DrBobRobert D. Hilgers, MD, MA, CAE

Dr. Hilgers is President and CEO of the Women’s Global Cancer Alliance (WGCA). The WGCA works to advance women’s health, addressing particularly those in need of cancer care in developing countries. 80% of cancers in women occur in developing countries where only 5% of resources are available for care.

Dr Hilgers is a board certified Gynecologic Oncologist and Professor Emeritus at the University of Louisville School of Medicine.

He has been in leadership positions most of his life serving close to 30 years in various posts including Professor of Gynecologic Oncology, Division Chief and Department Chairman. He trained in Obstetrics and Gynecology at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota and in Gynecologic Oncology at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center in New York. He served as the first formally trained gyn oncologist at the University of New Mexico where he founded the Division of Gynecologic Oncology. He subsequently became an examiner of candidates aspiring to become certified by the American Board of Obstetrics and Gynecology in both Obstetrics and Obstetrics as well as in Gynecologic Oncology.

He is a founding member and first president of the Memorial Gynecologic Oncology Society and served as president of the Western Gynecologic Oncology Society. He is a founding member of the International Gynecologic Cancer Society where he served as secretary/treasurer and then as its first executive director. In 2003 he was designated as one of the World Oncology Leaders by the American Society of Clinical Oncology. He is past president of the Metro Louisville American Cancer Society. Currently, he serves on the Humanitarian Committees of the American Society of Colposcopy and Cervical Pathology and of the Greater Louisville Medical Society.

He is a member of the Society of Gynecologic Oncology, Society of Pelvic Surgeons, American Society of Association Executives, American College of Obstetrics and Gynecology, American Society of Colposcopy and Cervical Pathology as well as the International Society for the Study of Trophoblastic Disease and the International Network for Cancer Treatment and Research. Previous memberships include the Society of Gynecological Surgeons and European Society of Gynecologic Oncology. He has served as consultant on editorial boards of several peer reviewed medical journals, the author of 120 publications and has cared for thousands of women with cancer of the cervix.

In 2005 he founded the Kentucky Cervical Cancer Coalition to raise awareness of our need to eliminate cancer of the cervix in Kentucky women through early vaccination and regular Pap Smear screening. He serves on the state Cervical Cancer Medical Advisory Committee and the Kentucky Medical Association Cancer Committee.

In 2008 he founded the Women’s Global Cancer Alliance to draw attention to women without access to treatment in developing countries.

In 2009 he went to Zambia to study their Cervical Cancer Prevention Program, noted to be one of the best in the world addressing cervical cancer in a developing country.

In June 2015 he opened the first full time cervical cancer screening and prevention clinic in Gonaives, Haiti, serving 90%  of the impoverished community at no charge.

His past achievements include being named Honorary Consultant, Charing Cross Hospital and Westminster School of Medicine in London, England; Honorary Professor at Sun Yet-Sen University of Medical Science in Guangzhou, People’s Republic of China; and Honorary Member of the Argentina Association of Gynecologic Oncology, Buenos Aires. He has lectured in Florence, Fukuoka, Seoul, Guangzhou, London, Buenos Aires, Bangkok, and Port au Prince. He has also been an observer of health care in Tibet, Nepal and Cambodia.

His career is further distinguished by being named one of Best Doctors of America, Best Doctors for Women, America’s Top Oncologists and is cited in the International Who’s Who of Professionals as well in the International Directory of Distinguished leadership.

In 2015, he received the Akin Humanitarian Award from the United Nations KY and became a graduate of the Rotary Leadership Institute.

A lifelong student, Dr. Hilgers holds a master’s degree in Health Care Management and is a Certified Association Executive. He is an avid photographer and continues to witness the best of Haiti through his photos.

  Banner

January 28, 2016Local doctor attacks cervical cancer in Haiti by admin

Dr. Robert Hilgers, right, shows directors from AmeriCares how screening and treatment work in the clinic in Gonaives, Haiti.

Dr. Robert Hilgers, right, shows directors from AmeriCares how screening and treatment work in the clinic in Gonaives, Haiti.

The 38-year-old mother of four had no idea anything was wrong. But a quick checkup at a new clinic in her native Haiti revealed several silently-festering precancerous lesions that could one day threaten her life.

Those lesions were frozen off in the same visit, the danger eliminated.

That’s the goal of the clinic recently opened by the nonprofit Women’s Global Cancer Alliance, which was founded by Dr. Robert Hilgers of Louisville. It’s a product of his passion – to ease the burden of cervical cancer in one of the hardest-hit nations in the world, where the disease strikes at a rate 12 times higher than in the United States.

While widespread screening keeps the disease at bay in America, Haitian women in the prime of life die frequently and needlessly from a disease that can be easily detected and stopped in its tracks.

The clinic is located above a clinic run by Colorado-based Health 4 Haiti in Gonaives, the third-largest city in this impoverished, earthquake-ravaged Caribbean nation. It cost about $50,000 to complete the second floor, half of which came from Health 4 Haiti and half from the alliance.

“We’re not looking just to save the women but the families, too,” Hilgers said. “You take the women out of the family, it may fall apart. They’re the ones that keep everything going.”

Jim Frey of Columbus, Ohio rode his bicycle 720 miles from Michigan to New York over nine days last fall, collecting donations totaling around $80,000 for construction and clinic operations. Frey, 69, “became smitten with the charity” after attending a fundraiser in 2013.

“I lost my father to cancer, my sister to cancer…,” he said. “(Eradicating) cancer is something that’s dear to my heart. What ‘Dr. Bob’ is doing is an awesome thing.”

 Reducing cancer’s burden

Clinic Director Danta Bien-Aime examines a patient during the screening phase of the "see and treat" method through a colposcope .

Clinic Director Danta Bien-Aime examines a patient during the screening phase of the “see and treat” method through a colposcope.

Hilgers’ dream – to drastically reduce cervical cancer — is possible, as the United States has shown.

Widespread Pap smear screening has brought down incidence and deaths here by more than 60 percent between 1955 and 1992, according to the National Institutes of Health. The incidence of cervical cancer is now about 7.7 per 100,000 women in the United States, compared with 93 per 100,000 in Haiti. Screening not only detects cancer early, it allows doctors to identify precancerous lesions so they can be removed before they turn into cancer.

But Pap smears are a luxury in a nation where the average per-person income is only about $400 a year. Doctors are in short supply, so women often have to travel long distances for health care, which can be expensive and time-consuming.

Complicating matters, preventive care is not part of the culture for poor Haitian women; “they ordinarily do not go to the doctor unless they’re sick,” Hilgers said. And they don’t know much about the disease, so they don’t recognize its symptoms or realize it’s caused by the sexually-transmitted human papillomavirus.

As a result, Haitian women die at a rate 30 times higher than in the United States, with 1,500 women in the nation of roughly 10 million succumbing to the disease each year. Doctors say the death is excruciating. Untreated cervical cancer grows, pushes into other areas of the body, obstructs the urinary tract and causes irregular bleeding, anemia and immense pain.

“In the Third World, cervical cancer is the No. 1 cancer killer of women,” said Susan Long, a part-time nurse practitioner at the University of Iowa who works in women’s health and has done mission work in Haiti several times.

Hilgers has seen such suffering first-hand in his job as a gynecological oncologist, sitting at the bedside of patients dying of advanced cancers. While those patients are the exception here, they are the rule in Haiti. More than 80 percent are diagnosed in the latest stages of cervical cancer, and there’s little palliative care for the terminally ill.

“Not uncommonly, the best they’ve got is Tylenol,” Hilgers said.

 Stopping a killer

Clinic Director Danta Bien-Aime and Associate Director Emilie Chery sign up the first patient to the be screened in the clinic.

Clinic Director Danta Bien-Aime and Associate Director Emilie Chery sign up the first patient to the be screened in the clinic.

Knowing the grim reality, Hilgers couldn’t turn away.

Early efforts involved briefly screening women at a clinic in Gros Morne, Haiti, with which the alliance is no longer affiliated. The alliance opened its permanent Gonaives clinic on June 30.

Clinic staff includes a director and associate director, who are both nurses, a local physician who serves as medical director, and a local church pastor who serves as business manager. They rely on thousands of dollars in medical equipment and supplies from the Louisville group Supplies Over Seas, which provides the goods for a small donation.

When patients arrive, they are screened for free with the so-called “see and treat” method, using household vinegar to identify suspicious cervical lesions and then freezing them off during the same visit. (New patients, but not established ones, pay a $2 facility fee to owners of the building, but nothing for care.) The see-and-treat method is quicker and cheaper than Pap smear screening, doesn’t require a lab and has been deemed safe and effective in poor countries by a World Health Organization report.

“Because we’re able to see and treat, it only requires one visit,” said Jane Younger, who chairs the cancer alliance board. “Given the poverty in Haiti, it becomes extremely difficult for women to get from one area to another.”

Younger said she hopes the Gonaives clinic is only the beginning.

“Ultimately, the broader vision is to replicate the clinic in another location,” she said. “We have to continue to raise funds.”

Hilgers said he’d like to see a network of clinics someday. He’d also like to see the HPV vaccine used widely in Haiti because it could also go a long way toward preventing the disease.

In the meantime, he’s been concentrating on education – of the clinic staff and of patients. Long plans to accompany Hilgers to Haiti in January to share their expertise with clinic nurses, in the hopes that those nurses can then train other health care workers in their country — and all of them can educate local women about the need for preventive care.

But Hilgers said it will take the combined efforts of many organizations, and a greater awareness of the problem globally, to make significant progress against the deadly disease.

“Over 90 percent of all cervical cancer is in developing countries….We have a chance to eliminate it, but it’s years off,” he said. “There’s a lot of promise. But I’ll tell you, there’s a lot of work ahead.”

Reporter Laura Ungar, who also covers public health for USA TODAY, can be reached at (502)582-7190 or lungar@courier-journal.com. December 24, 2015.

See More Posts

Follow Us