Magazine article U.S. Catholic

Rx for Reconciliation

Magazine article U.S. Catholic

Rx for Reconciliation

Article excerpt

EARLY IN HIS MEDICAL TRAINING, DR. ERIC SUBA learned something that has haunted him since: Cervical cancer is the leading cause of cancer-related deaths among women in developing countries. From his own work, he knew that cervical cancer could easily be prevented with Pap screening. The problem? Pap smears are unavailable in most developing nations.

But Suba has resolved to change that. After completing his training and beginning a career in pathology, he set to the task. The first big question was--quite literally--where in the world to begin. Of dozens of possible countries he chose Vietnam.

It was a decision that stemmed from a basic desire to right a wrong: "I'd read a great deal about the wars that had taken place there," Suba says, "and I felt that we Americans had a clear obligation to assist a society that we had once tried to destroy."

Through his research he's realized that the bitter effects of the Vietnam War are even more far-reaching than he had initially suspected. For example, cervical cancer is caused by human papillomavirus (HPV), a sexually transmitted infection. During the Vietnam War, as in most wars, there was an increase in both commercial sex activity and sexual promiscuity, factors that likely led to an increase in HPV in the Vietnamese population. In fact, records show a clear increase in cervical cancer among Vietnamese women following the war. The discovery of this war-cancer connection has only cemented Suba's resolve to build bridges between the two countries.

In 1992 he learned about Friendship Bridge, a nonprofit organization that facilitates physician-training visits to Vietnam. They provided him with the fax numbers for two cancer hospitals, and, with his friend Dr. Stephen Raab, Suba left for Vietnam in 1994 on what was to become the first of many visits. It was an exhilarating cultural experience for Suba.

"It was almost like being a child again," he recalls. "Several times a day I would see or hear or smell something that I would not have imagined."

Undaunted by the language barrier, he and Raab visited cancer hospitals in Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City, connecting with physicians, sharing their vision, and establishing friendships. "The most important thing I learned on that first trip was that there were gifted, idealistic, hardworking physicians in Vietnam with whom it would be a pleasure to work," says Suba. …

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