The World Health Organisation (WHO) has issued new guidelines it says will help countries improve the way they prevent and control cervical cancer.
Although easily preventable, WHO says, worldwide, cervical cancer is responsible for more than 270,000 deaths among women every year, where 85 per cent of the deaths occur in developing countries.
In Uganda, cervical cancer is the leading cause of gynaecological cancer, with more than 3,500 women diagnosed with the disease every year, according to health experts. Since a person with the disease may only show signs after several years, health officials aise women and girls to screen regularly as an effective preventive measure.
Two doses of HPV vaccine
The new guidelines recommend that all girls between the ages of nine and 13 should be vaccinated with at least two doses of the human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccine, instead of three that the initial guidelines proposed.
HPV is the virus responsible for most cases of cervical cancer.
“The change will make it easier to administer the vaccine. It also reduces the cost, which is important for low and middle-income countries, where national health budgets are constrained,” WHO said in a statement.
Change in screening
Under the new guidelines, the frequency of screening for HPV will also reduce. WHO says once a woman has been screened and has tested negative, she should not be re-screened for at least five years, but should be re-screened within 10 years.
“This represents a major cost saving for health systems, in comparison with other types of tests,” says WHO.
Dr Nathalie Broutet, a WHO expert on cervical cancer prevention and control, says: “The updated cervical cancer guidance can be the difference between life and death for girls and women worldwide.” She adds: “There are no magic bullets, but the combination of more effective and affordable tools to prevent and treat cervical cancer will help release the strain on stretched health budgets.”
According to WHO, more than one million women worldwide are currently living with cervical cancer. Many have no access to health services for prevention, curative treatment or palliative care.
“Unless we address gender inequality and ensure women’s right to health, the number of women dying from cervical cancer will continue to rise,” says Dr Marleen Temmerman, the director of WHO’s department of reproductive health.
Uganda ia already undertaking a two-year pilot project to vaccinate up to 140,000 young girls in selected districts against cervical cancer using the Gardasil vaccine.
What you should know about cervical cancer
•Primary prevention for cervical cancer is human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccination. It targets girls aged nine to 13 years, with the aim of having them vaccinated before they become sexually active.
•Secondary prevention includes availing women over the age of 30, with access to technology, such as visual inspection of the cervix with acetic acid or HPV testing for screening. This can be followed by treatment of detected precancerous lesions, which may develop into cervical cancer.
•Tertiary prevention on the other hand includes access to cancer treatment and management for women of any age, including surgery, chemotherapy and radiotherapy.
SOURCE: Daily Monitor