Like the Deep South Network for Cancer Control, the “Sowing the Seeds of Health” program relies on community health advisors to spread the word about cancer prevention and early detection. In this case, those “sowing the seeds” and reaping the benefits are residents of Alabama’s underserved Latino communities. And, in the interest of establishing trust in the immigrant community, the volunteers for this initiative were found at local churches (where community volunteers before the Sowing the Seeds program were found), and serve as the decision makers regarding the most effective ways to disseminate information in their communities.
Among the program’s most impressive accomplishments is the annual Pensando Siempre En La Mujer Latina (Always Thinking About Latin Women) event, which is held at 2 Birmingham churches. While the event itself features a luncheon and speaker, the attendees leave with something far more valuable. Through partnerships with Birmingham’s St. Vincent Hospital, the Susan G. Komen Breast Cancer Foundation, Cooper Green Mercy Hospital, and Birmingham Healthcare, participants receive low-cost Pap tests and free mammograms. For those whose screenings reveal breast or cervical cancer, treatment is provided by UAB and 2 other local hospitals.
In a population in which many women have never had a Pap test or mammogram, 70% of the participants (more than 10,000 women) have kept their screening appointments, and many have gone on to become regular clinic patients.
When Isabel Scarinci, PhD, took the partnership to her native Brazil, the cancer center worked with Brazilian academic and government entities to train community leaders to educate women about the dangers of tobacco use. The initiative was 1 of only 11 international tobacco-control projects to receive NIH funding in 2008, and operates with a 5-year, $1.5-million grant. In this, the world’s second largest tobacco-producing county, where girls turn to smoking in unusually high numbers, Scarinci witnessed the passage of a strict law regarding tobacco use in enclosed spaces.
In a second Brazilian initiative, underserved women are being encouraged to undergo breast cancer screening through funding awarded by Susan G. Komen for the Cure.
Through this mutually beneficial partnership, the next generation of Brazilian scientists is being trained to launch their own health initiatives, and UAB participants use lessons learned to help better reach underserved populations in Alabama.