Cervical cancer accounts for 30 cases per every 100,000 reported annually in Kenya, making it the most common cancer among women in the country. It is also the most leading cause of deaths due to cancer among women every year. The number of women being screened for this form of cancer is alarmingly low – only 3% of women of child bearing age.
These were the main issues of discussion as the First Human Papiloma Virus (HPV) Conference opened in Nairobi. Local and international cervical cancer screening experts are meeting to discuss the best ways of implementing screening programs; review published clinically validated data and gold standard testing solutions.
Statistics from a study carried out in the period between 2000 and 2005 show that during that five-year period, cervical cancer was the most common cancer women were treated for at the country’s largest teaching and referral hospital; Kenyatta National Hospital. Similar studies also show that the trend is replicated in the counties; with studies in Embu and Nakuru counties showing that cervical cancer is the most common cancer.
The challenge is in getting women screened for cervical cancer at an early stage so that the care is focused more on preventive than curative care. The HPV virus takes ten years to develop into cervical cancer in the body. Hence, the need for early screening and also going by the statistics showing that a third of all cancers are preventable.
In a speech read on his behalf by the head of the Department of Preventive and Promotive Diseases at the Ministry of Health, Dr. Jackson Kioko – Cabinet Secretary Mr. James Macharia noted, “cervical cancer is a major public health concern in Kenya. It is the most common cause of cancer deaths among women. Although this cancer is easily prevented and controlled through behavior change, vaccination, screening, early detection and treatment of pre-cancerous lesions, most of the eligible women of reproductive age in Kenya have never been screened.”
The situation with regard to screening is made more dire by the statistic showing that cervical cancer screening coverage in Kenya for all women aged between 18 and 69 is at only 3.2%. The most commonly used screening method in Kenya is Visual Inspection with Acetic Acid and Visual Inspection with Lugol’s Iodine (VIA-VILI). Though the method is cost-effective, it is a bit outdated as current trends globally have health practitioners combining Pap Smear and HPV testing. The two latter forms are not widely used in Kenya due to cost implications.
The conference is seeking to highlight solutions that are within reach locally and ways to get more women to be screened. The goal is to eventually embrace partnerships that can enhance cervical cancer screening programs and ensure all eligible women have access to life saving interventions.
QIAGEN Vice President for Commercial Partners Patrick Wilder while stressing the need for increased screening said that no woman should die of cancer.
The theme for World Cancer Day last month was Not Beyond Us, and no doubt it is not beyond us to improve access to cervical cancer screening in Kenya.
Let’s all continue the fight to beat all forms of cancer.
By Mwende Maureen