Two decades ago, David Walmer went on a volunteer mission with his church to Haiti. He was sent to paint walls at a hospital in the seaside town of Léogâne, but when the people there learned that Walmer was a doctor — he was a fertility specialist at Duke University — they asked him to spend the week with a local obstetrician-gynecologist named Jean-Claude Fertilien. Walmer was shocked by what he saw: Fertilien finishing a hysterectomy with the aid of a flashlight when the hospital generator failed to restart, for instance, or when an anesthesiologist wasn’t available for an emergency C-section, the doctor just numbing the skin and cutting. At one point, Walmer was called to the bedside of a young woman in her mid-20s with undiagnosed cervical cancer who had gone into septic shock. There was nothing to be done for her, and she died right in front of him. Walmer was appalled. In the United States, cervical cancer is considered a preventable disease.
“You have 10 years to detect this disease before it becomes untreatable,” Walmer says. “And it’s easy to detect. It develops on the outside of the cervix, which you can see.”
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