Ever since I was little I had two loves, music and medicine. I possessed a precocious curiosity about the “science” of life in general. I always knew that one day I was going to become a Medical Doctor and I was well aware that there would be a long road ahead.
I studied medicine with a goal to understand the behaviors and mechanisms behind human bodily functions and to find (the solution or the cure) for specific diseases.
I believe that the urge for finding these answers has brought me to where I am today; studying and working as a medical professional and researcher. However, I have since learned that studying medicine was not enough to answer all the questions about this thing we call life!
Can you tell us about how you started working for Fundashon Prevenshon?
Since my return from Costa Rica I have worked as a general practitioner and as physician assistant at the Neurology ward in the General Hospital.
In November 2012 a former colleague, the actual director of Fundashon Prevenshon Ms. L. Elstak who always I have considered a role model, brought me in contact with professor Pinedo. I was offered a job as a research physician on the HPV and Cervical cancer program. At that moment I thought that I could keep my interest in science. I consider this an opportunity to do medical research on Curaçao with the well-respected global authority in medicine; emeritus Professor Bob Pinedo.
Of course I saw the opportunity to work on uniform guidelines, developed and adapted to our specific community. From my experiences I had so far, I want to contribute, by means of evidence-based research projects to set these guidelines and safeguards.
What is Fundashon Prevenshon?
Fundashon Prevenshon is a private foundation that was founded by Emeritus Professor H.M.(Bob) Pinedo and Mr. L. (Paps) Capriles with the objective of supporting and administering a center for the prevention of disease in Curaçao. As of 28th of October 2009, the foundation has been listed at the Ministry of Health of Curaçao and is situated at the Klipstraat 11 in Otrobanda.
What is HPV?
Human Papillomavirus (HPV) is the most common sexual transmitted disease and it’s a well-established cause of cervical cancer. Although cervical cancer is the most common cancer caused by the HPV virus, studies have shown that the virus can also cause cancer in areas such as anus, vagina, vulva, penis, and oropharynx. It represents an additional 0·7% of all cancer sites in men and women, meaning that HPV is estimated to be responsible for 5·2% of all cancers worldwide.
What research projects are you currently working on?
I am the person responsible for writing the protocol, organizing the population screening associated with scientific research about HPV and cervical cancer. I will perform the scientific research by collecting 1000 Pap smears and HPV samples. All the participants of the scientific research will receive a self-test. It will be a total of approximately 2000 HPV samples that I will be analyzing in the lab. Last year we already did a pilot trial consisting of 253 women in order to have preliminary results and analyze the work and study the logistics.
Currently, I am working on data analysis of a study we just have finished in The Netherlands consisting out of HPV genotype on paraffin embedded cancer and pre-cancer material in Curaçao women from 2003 to 2013. This study was done to specify which HPV genotype is causing cancer in our population which is relevant issue to address in order to introduce the HPV vaccination.
“…many women are not aware of having their cervix intact after having the uterus removed.”
There is also another ongoing analysis happening in tandem with this research to help pin-point the number of women who have had hysterectomies (uterus extirpation) with intact cervix. An interestnig fact we came to find during the first trial was that many women are not aware of having their cervix intact after having the uterus removed. This must be considered a risk for developing cervical cancer, espescially if these women still have their cervix and do not routinely have a Pap smear done. We will analyze this population in order to tackle the situation of awareness and to incorporate this group in the population-screening program.
We will work with the organization to start randomized research in 1000 women in the coming months. This study will be realized under the supervision of Professors at VU mc Vrije University of Amsterdam and DDL Diagnostic Center at Rijswijk in the Netherlands. A local Gynecologist and Professor Pinedo are involved to support the research and for advice.
Besides this being an important opportunity for the population of Curaçao, I will also obtain my doctorate in science and medicine with the completion of this PhD study.
So, is HPV currently a public health issue in the Caribbean?
Caribbean data reveals that cervical cancer is ranking second place in most common cancer among women in the Caribbean. HPV is the established cause of this type of cancer. There is currently not enough data reported regarding the HPV virus and its effects in the Caribbean; not all islands have implemented a cervical cancer-screening program within their communities. Furthermore, even with the introduction of the HPV vaccine most Caribbean islands currently do not have a government regulated vaccination program.
“…Caribbean data reveals that cervical cancer is ranking second place in most common cancer among women in the Caribbean. “
However, there have been findings of cancers caused by this very contagious sexual transmitted virus in the cervix (feminine organ) and also in other tissues in both man and women e.g. vulva, vagina, anus, oral cavity and throat in women. There are reports of HPV being found in men with cancer of the penis, anus, oral and throat cavity.
That is why we are working diligently to educate and stimulate the population to participate in screening programs and be aware that this is not only a female but also a male public health issue.
How is this study geared towards the Curaçao community and how are test subjects picked out?
Subjects are selected according to the needs and the current situation in the population. Prior to the scientific study, a literature analysis will be done. The reason is to analyze existing publications on this subject and to determine the importance of the results for this population. This HPV study on Curaçao will start from scratch. There is little data available in the Caribbean. Some of the results are well-known from Jamaica and Cuba but considering the fact that the mortality rate for cervical cancer is high in the Caribbean, more studies are requested in order to address this form of cancer in the right manner.
CF: Wow! That is a lot to digest on a daily basis! Can you tell us a little more about yourself and how you spend any free time you have left?
I am a dreamer and a believer. I am also very ambitious and always think about the bigger picture. If you really want something it depends on you and only you to achieve that goal.
The most important thing is to never give up. Everything is possible when you dream & when you believe. I have a saying since my childhood: “This world is big enough for all my dreams, and small enough for me to achieve them” (quote by me). Prior to my medical study, I graduated as a Registered Nurse. At age 16 I started to work as intern aspirant nurse at the St. Elisabeth Hospital in Curaçao.
I find it incredibly inspiring to be part of this scientific study. I work hard to stay on the right track to achieve this goal and fully contribute to my community. This survey requires a lot of time for reading other studies and analyzing the results. Working in the lab is a challenge of endurance and concentration. The calculations and the discussion on the results with my supervisors contribute each day to get a better understanding of the behavior of the HPV virus genotypes on the island. Furthermore, providing information to patients and other interested parties is inherent in my profession and gives me great satisfaction.
My balance in this scientific research is music and I play the ‘Cuatro’ instrument. I love music and I compose my own songs. I have several compositions and a c.d. to be published with 9 self composed songs. I am a member of a 25 person choir. Making music together and studying the details of the different voices and the various musical instruments is one of my hobbies. I’m part of the folkloric music group “Tipiko Pasabon”. I play Cuatro in harp & Cuatro duets with Marco Dorothea. I also play with my beloved uncle Rudy Plaate on special occasions. Benito (Broertje) Dolorita, Alberto (Betto) Betrian, Eduardo Pereira, Norman Moron, Lindo Casper, Hershel Rosario, are some more local musicians I used to perform with.
I can now travel less while I complete this study, but I cannot wait for the day I can act and perform in theaters and musicals again.
Also, when I do have some free evening hours I like to try and stop the clock by enjoying a self made dish with family and friends.
My cooking skills come from my curiosity for other cultures and I find experimenting with existing recipes helps bring the travel back to me.