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December 1, 2008
Coffee producers lead fight against cancer in Nicaragua

Nicaragua has some of the highest rates of cervical cancer in the world.

While vaccines, early testing and treatment have reduced the effects of cervical cancer on women in the U.S., the disease is the number one killer of women in Latin America and kills over 33,000 women in Latin America and the Caribbean each year.

Though the disease can be prevented with a vaccine (for human papillomavirus or HPV, which causes cervical cancer) and is treatable if detected early, access and affordability are challenges to communities in Nicaragua.

Now, Nicaraguan women are finding hope in coffee — the country’s top export. The “Grounds for Health” program brings low-cost treatment to coffee-growing communities like Jinotega, one of the country’s top coffee producers. The nonprofit group is supported by international coffee companies and also works with Soppexcca, a cooperative of coffee producers in Nicaragua, to fund and execute testing.

Worldfocus special correspondent Lynn Sherr and producer Megan Thompson travel to Jinotega, Nicaragua, where coffee has truly become the nectar of life for some women.


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I was very struck by this segment last night, not only in terms of being amazed to learn that for many women, this was their first ever medical exam (!), but that through this program, women are getting screened for cervical cancer. Thank you for sharing this story with us.


Another killer in any country that grows bananas are the plastic bags that each stalk is grown in. The bags are impregnated with pesticides. The manufacturing and susequent handling will give you cancer.


Yes Patricia,
The cytotechs that are part of the team are volunteers.


Do you use volunteer cytotechnologist for reading the pap smears in latin america?


[…] women in coffee growing communities and based right here in Waterbury, was recently featured in a brief documentary. It features a campaign in Jinotega, Nicaragua that treated some of the female coffee farmers in […]


I have NO idea why we’re comparing Greece to Nicaragua on the mere fact that one can’t flush paper down the toilet… really? are you kidding?
You said a lot of interesting things that have my mind turning and thinking about the situation differently.
However to say that Nicaragua is more developed socially than the U.S because of the suicide, depression and, ‘loneliness..’ Suicide, depression and everything else along with it are present because society’s like the U.S harp on individual rights and autonomy instead of community… this has nothing to do with being MORE developed and everything to do with HOW society is developed. I’m amazed that one thing otherwise. I got a lot of what you’re saying Emma, but all your comparisons between the U.S and Nicaragua tell me that you’re just as self absorbed as the average american caught up in nonsense. you think the average american on wall street is suffering more than the average Nicaraguan? hm. that’s debatable. really, really debatable, in a lot of different, obvious ways. People are suffering, suffering and suffering more. It shouldn’t irk you. There is a lot more than that I’m sure. I’m not saying everyone’s just waiting to die, but I saw the looks on some of those women, it’s not an easy life. To compare their life to Wall street… is to completely ignore the liberating presence of choice in a person’s life… I’m going to go out on a flimsy limb here and say that the average person on Wall Street has a liddew bit more choice than a woman working on a coffee plantation in Nicaragua. I could be wrong. you’ll let me know if I am…
I don’t expect a lot of objective sense coming from a Grounds for Health volunteer, and I am genuinely happy that people want to make a difference.
Emma, you brought up some really interesting points that would have been easier to accept were it not for your inept analogies and that good ole self righteous american tone.


certainly at the end of the day, when it comes to Ground for Health, we can consider the coffee cup half full, not half empty.


Yes Zola, you should be more informed before you go on the attack. I´ve been in Nicaragua researching the coffee industry for the last month and I can tell you that in this specific case, pesticides are not by and large the main cause of the cervical cancer, mostly because the cost of pesticides has risen so much that most farmers can only afford to use it sparingly and, with training from an agricultural agency of the Nicaraguan government called CATIE, they are employing integrated pest management techniques (including growing in the shade of a diverse variety of other species) to keep pesticide use to a minimum. This really is about access to screening and treatment, and Grounds For Health is an especially good program not only because they treat early stage cancer the same day as they screen for it, but also because they employ Nicaraguan doctors and nurses to follow up with the more serious cases. Furthermore, their model has a more sustainable aspect in that they train local doctors and nurses to use this low-cost screening methods so that women in this region are not just reliant on brigades of foreign docs. Also I think this is one of the best examples of a big coffee company, Green Mountain Coffee Roasters, trying to legitimately improve the lives of their growers in the sense that the term ¨fair trade¨ implies. The main problem with fair trade right now is that the price for fair trade coffee has not gone up in about 15 years, that fair trade prices are not always higher than the price for conventional coffee, that farmers who sell fair trade coffee can only sell about 20% of their harvest due to low market demand, that coffee producers see about a 30-50% decrease in their harvests when they switch to organic, and that the price for organic coffee is not always higher than the price for conventional coffee (meaning in a year where conventional coffee prices are high, the organic coffee farmer is earning 30-50% less than his conventional coffee farmer neighbor). These are complicated issues a lot of which require organizations like Transfair USA to push for a higher fair trade coffee floor price, which they´re unwilling to do because they don´t want to see a drop in fair trade coffee demand. So at the end of the day it might come down to the fact that we, as a nation, are not willing to pay enough for our coffee to make the real BIG changes that are necessary. In the meanwhile, programs like Grounds for Health are saving lives in communities with little access.

Also I would like to comment on the earlier discussions of poverty in Nicaragua. Nicaragua is certainly a poor country, but I don´t know how useful these mega-narratives of babies dying all over the place and NO drinking water and (God Forbid!) no ability to flush your toilet paper down the toilet are. (By the way, you can´t flush toilet paper down the toilet in Greece either but I don´t see anyone wringing their hands about that. It´s actually a more environmentally sustainable way of dealing with waste than flushing). There certainly are far too many children who are hungry, who die of preventable diseases, and who have little to no access to education and health care, and far too much income inequality, and there is certainly an enormous amount of work to be done. But these mega-narratives just make it seem like this place is absolute hell, and everyone must be absolutely miserably suffering ALL the time, that nobody has ANY disposable income and that only by the gracious generousity of development aid will anyone ever feel happy ever in this country which is not the case. There absolutely is drinking water that is safe to drink in Nicaragua, in fact most of Managua´s drinking water is safe to drink. I drink the water here, and I´m not dead, so something must be OK. There´s definitely higher incidences of people dying or getting sick from contaminated drinking water here than in the States, but that doesn´t mean that ALL the drinking water is unsafe. There´s certainly a much higher than acceptable infant mortality rate, but that doesn´t mean that most families have lost a child. In some ways I would say Nicaragua is more developed than the United States- in a social sense, people are friendlier, more open and giving with each other, there´s not as much suicide, depression and loneliness, children are raised by a big family group where no one adult has to bear the entire responsiblity of raising a child, there is an enormous variety of delicious, nutritious, cheap fresh fruit that I would kill to be able to find in the States. It is, by and large and stable and safe country. By the same token, women have much more restricted social and economic role, people´s opportunities are very limited, and they have to deal with having people get sick and die of things that nobody should have to get sick and die from. I´m not saying it´s perfect, but when I see these one-off descriptions of places like Nicaragua as just suffering, suffering and more suffering it irks me a little. I think the average person on Wall Street right now is much more miserable than the average Nicaraguan- not that that means we shouldn´t do things like feed street kids and prevent diseases and build roads and fund schools, we absolutely SHOULD do those things, but just that we shouldn´t do it with so much arrogance.


Zola, I do agree there is much more that needs to be done. However, GFH not only screens for cervical canver via the Pap smear, but also treats on site, same day. You may not have known, but all of the volunteers who come to offer their professional skills to make these clinics happen, are purely volunteer. We pay our own way, pay for our food and lodging, we even bring our own equipment. You may be an amazing person who can put even Mother Teresa’s philanthropic work to shame, but even if that is the case how can you minimize the efforts others are putting forth? Should we not encourage each other to make a difference no matter how big or small? Thank you to everyone who is trying to help another, whether it is your neighbor or someone very far away, you make a difference.


benefit how?
are they receiving vaccines or treatment?
Glenn mentions a host of serious problems plaguing Nicaragua. People are dying. Babies are dying. Women are dying. Sanitation is a huge, huge issue. I just see this as a very silly way of approaching a very serious issue. So these dying women are told their status.
How are you helping them take control of their lives? They’re going to go back to their filthy water, dying babies and tiny salary with nothing but the knowledge that they’re going to die of cervical cancer (well if it wasn’t cervical cancer it was something else, no?!)
I just have a huge issue on ‘our’ ideas of what women from different cultures need.
The fact that you’re funded by int’l coffee companies and still claim to have these exploited women’s interests nat heart is in itself is both hilarious and extremely depressing.
How about you find out what they want from you.
something tells me it’ll have more to do with their neighbors, their babies, the basic things we take for granted. One that is provided, then let’s talk about fancy test that predict how I’m going to die.


This my first comment on a website ever. It is difficult to accurately interpret tone or intent from e-mail. It is a flat way of communicating. But it does seem that there is an element of disdain that comes through several of the comments. This is not a helpful way to establish a healthy communication or dialogue. Also, I went on a Grounds for Health trip to Mexico to do Pap screening. Even though I am not a coffe drinker, I do feel that the women who were seen did benefit from the care they recieved.


Well I think it’s just peachy keen how eager we are to hush these women up with pap smears and testing facilities when the scientific world knows good and well the connection between the pesticides used on plantations and cervical and prostate cancer. “Coffee producers lead fight against cancer?” Give me a break. I’m sure it give the average good intentioned and completely ignorant North American the warm fuzzies but it’s only half the story. The more important and also the more costly part is “Coffee producers turn a blind eye to carcinogenic chemicals used on plantations and cause more cancer in Nicaragua!” But that’s not a title I expect to see in my lifetime. So, Congrats to Ground For Health. I’m sure you all felt really good about yourselves while you gave a damn about a very minuscule part of a very serious problem… but if you attack it from your angle, you don’t have to feel so bad about drinking the coffee, and I guess that’s all that really matters…


Very grateful that Worldfocus took the initiative to film and run this very informative news segment on how Grounds For Health is doing a great job in empowering these Central American countries with the knowledge and skills to continue to provide cervical cancer screening for their own people.


Excellent observation Bob.
I was one of the team that provided the skills for that program and I am sure I speak for the whole team when I say that there is nothing that compares to the gratitude you feel from the people that you are helping. It sure puts in perspective what we take for granted elsewhere.


Very well said Glenn


Excellent description of the dramatic benefits in essential care that can be obtained with simple, low cost but thoroughly applied methods to at-risk populations. Now if only we in the US take a lesson from those women who organized that program and the people who supply the professional skills. In the US: Want an MRI tomorrow and you have good insurance – no problem. Want to prevent a killing disease and you have no money — tough for you.


I am not sure what planet Ken has been living on. Nicaragua is the poorest Spanish speaking country IN THE WORLD. It is the second poorest country in the hemisphere only surpassed by Haiti. If Ken had actually been there as I have many, many times and was not relying on statistics that he drawing out of the stratosphere he could not possibly make such statements. You only have to see the little children standing on the streets of Managua begging for 1 peso for something to eat. You only have to see the children that live on the dump in Managua digging through the refuse that is dumped so they can eat some rotten food that day. Maybe Ken could even check out the school that is located ON THE DUMP SITE. People live in Managua on dirt floors with no indoor sanitation facilities. 90% of the wealth of Nicaragua is controlled by 10% of the people. It is one of the most uneven distributions of wealth in the world. Then Ken could venture out of the capital and go to the north where we go. He could go to the Rain Forest where the indigenous people are living with NO INCOME at all and there is NO EDUCATION and NO HEALTH CARE provided by the government. Ken don’t talk about things you know nothing about especially since you rely on an agency that has no presence whatsoever in a country where babies are dying from diarrhea and from worms in their bellies because there is no money to buy a pill that costs less than 25 cents and women are dying from cervical cancer rates of more than 50% in some communities. This country has no drinkable water, no sanitation – you can’t even flush toilet paper in the capital! If these people are living in low-middle income conditions I don’t think I could stand to see the conditions of the poor.


Nicaraqua is 2nd to Haiti in the western hemisphere
in its cervical cancer rate, irregardless of poverty level.


nicaragua is not a poor state,it’sa low middle income state.look up the worldfact book and it’s poverty rate and gnp ppp.most folks there are not poor. look up the u.n. report or u.n.d.r,they will have more correct info more so on poverty rates.

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