"Many of the women we work with have no health insurance"
Hatixhe Gorenca is a nurse at the Albanian Centre of Population and Development (ACPD) clinic in Tirana. She joined the center in 2013 with 39 years of experience working in gynaecology. During her time as a nurse, she has seen vast improvements in access and services for cervical cancer screenings. However, she says that there is a considerable number of women in rural areas that face difficulties in accessing healthcare, and some that cannot access it at all.
Rural women & access
“The ACPD clinic is crucial for these [rural] women, because the healthcare we offer through gynaecological visits, includes counselling, pap smears, colposcopies and recently VIA tests and cryotherapy. Services that are totally missing in their areas. What they appreciate most is the mobile clinic in the outskirts of Tirana, because they have an opportunity to meet with doctors and to get information about their health status. We do approximately 17-18 visits per day and the number is always increasing”, Hatixhe says.
The clinic has developed a reputation for offering youth-friendly healthcare and information. The confidential and open approach of the clinic is providing access for girls to comprehensive sexual education at an early age, without fear of discrimination or embarrassment.
When the clinic first introduced VIA testing in 2017, as an alternative way for the screening of cervical cancer, it was welcomed by the women. “The reason is that compared to pap smears, VIA gives an immediate response on the health of the cervical cells,” Hatixhe explains. “The other reason is economical. Many of the women we work with have no health insurance, as such they cannot benefit from the free tests at maternity hospitals. Furthermore, some of them are vulnerable women and they feel safe when they can get free information and healthcare at our clinic.”
What is VIA & Cryotherapy?
ACDP outreach activities enable the staff to give the information where the women are: in the streets, in their workplace, in their homes. Hatixhe has witnessed a growing interest in women regarding their reproductive health in recent years. The number of women that walk through the clinic doors is proof of that. During the 2016-2017 over 3,000 women received healthcare services from the clinic.
Encouraging other women
“I myself am learning a lot in the clinic”, Hatixhe says. “VIA test was a new technique even for me, but it is so simple, I can now train the staff at the health centers. I can tell you that they are very enthusiastic and responsive because VIA is very easy to apply. Since many health centers have no gynaecological bed for their visits or low capacities to apply PAP tests which require specialized personnel, VIA is much more suitable for their conditions, because it can be done by the nurses or midwifes themselves.”
Hatixhe is impressed by the reaction of women taking VIA tests. “As a nurse with long experience in the health sector, I have received many thanks from patients, but the hugs we get from these women are heartfelt. After 2-3 years of coming and going to different institutions, finally, they have found a method which can detect pre-cancer cells, get treatment for it and now they are totally healthy.”
Hatixhe says that many women have been encouraged to book a VIA test through hearing about it from a friend or relative who had a positive experience at the clinic. “After the first visit, the women return with other women who are interested to do the tests. This is wonderful.”