The Other Fight of the Yungueña Coca Farmers: Debunking The Myths About the Papilloma Vaccine

By Anahi Cazas, Bolivia

The following is an excerpt from an article written by a reporter who was part of a Sabin-supported program for journalists. As part of the program, they covered stories on HPV and cervical cancer in low and middle-income countries.

La Paz, Bolivia
La Paz, Bolivia

Before leaving to work in her chaco, Martina Chino gets up at four in the morning to prepare breakfast, lunch, and even dinner for the day. She finishes all the household chores before six, when she takes advantage of the first rays of the sun to dry the coca leaves. “I work more than a man does, I plant, I dig the ground and I hit (the shovel). Men cannot match my work,” she points out and adds that this effort is the key to sustaining her household income.

Martina is a producer of the “sacred leaf” and lives in a community in Coroico in the Yungas in the department of La Paz. She has four children, all born at home, the eldest is 32-years-old. One of her main concerns, she says, is the difficulty in accessing basic health services in her area, leading her to rely on the consumption of medicinal plants. She mentions that her daughters were vaccinated at school against the Human Papillomavirus (HPV), but she is not aware of the vaccine’s purpose or benefits.

One of her daughters – who is sitting next to her and helps her sift coca leaves in a shed in the Coroico market – confirms that she received the vaccine at school, but admits not knowing that it was to prevent cervical cancer, saying, “They haven’t explained it to us.”

Upon hearing about cervical cancer, Martina remarks: “It seems that it affects those who do not work; not those of us who work.” Her daughter quickly corrects her, “It’s not like that.”

Martina’s comments are not unique but reflect a broader trend. According to Paula Cruz, a young coca farmer from a community in Inquisivi, many grandmothers and mothers from the Yungas communities still hold several “misguided beliefs” about the HPV vaccine. However, new generations of mothers are seeking information, getting educated, and giving the “green light” for their girls to receive the vaccine in schools. Thus, the youngest are breaking the myths around the vaccine.


Read the full article in Spanish on the Brujula Digital website.