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WHO seeks to end cervical cancer

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Patients leave the National Cancer Centre at Calmette Hospital in Phnom Penh. Heng Chivoan

WHO seeks to end cervical cancer

The World Health Organisation (WHO) on November 17 launched its Global Strategy to Accelerate the Elimination of Cervical Cancer, an initiative which prioritises vaccination, screening and treatment of the disease.

In a press release, the WHO said the successful implementation of these three steps could reduce more than 40 per cent of new cases of the disease and prevent up to five million related deaths by 2050.

WHO director-general Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said: “Eliminating any cancer would have once seemed an impossible dream, but we now have the cost-effective, evidence-based tools to make that dream a reality.

“But we can only eliminate cervical cancer as a public health problem if we match the power of the tools we have with unrelenting determination to scale up their use globally.”

Cervical cancer, which the WHO said is a preventable and curable disease if detected early and adequately treated, is the fourth most common form of cancer among women worldwide. If more steps are not taken to contain the disease, new cases of cervical cancer are estimated to increase from 570,000 to 700,000 between 2018 and 2030, with annual deaths expected to jump from 311,000 to 400,000, it said.

Cases of cervical cancer are nearly twice as high in low- and middle-income countries compared to high-income nations, and death rates are three times higher, according to the press release.

The WHO said Covid-19 has complicated the issue by preventing people from getting vaccinated, screened and treated. Restrictions on travel and border closures have reduced the availability of supplies and prevented skilled biomedical engineers from being able to maintain equipment.

The press release said women have faced difficulties travelling from rural areas to referral centres for treatment while school closures have prevented students from receiving vaccines.

“WHO urges all countries to ensure that vaccination, screening and treatment can continue safely, with all necessary precautions,” the press release said.

WHO assistant director-general Dr Princess Nothemba Simelela said: “The fight against cervical cancer is also a fight for women’s rights: the unnecessary suffering caused by this preventable disease reflects the injustices that uniquely affect women’s health around the world. Together, we can make history to ensure a cervical cancer-free future.”

Dr Eav Sokha, the director of the National Cancer Centre at Calmette Hospital in Phnom Penh, said on November 17 that he did not have concerted figures of cancer cases in Cambodia. But he said according to the WHO, cervical cancer affects Cambodian women more than any other type of cancer.

Sokha estimated that every year, between 1,500 to 2,500 Cambodian women are diagnosed with cervical cancer and about 60 per cent die of the disease.

“Mostly, [the] women did not come to get treatment in the early stages of the disease. They wait until it turns so severe that it can’t be cured. Those who came to get treatment during the early stages were successfully cured,” Sokha said.

Cambodia started treating cancer patients in 2003, with treatment available at the Khmer-Soviet Friendship Hospital and private hospitals. The Calmette Hospital inaugurated the National Cancer Centre and started providing cancer treatment In 2018, according to Sokha.

He called on women to seek cancer treatment at hospitals as early as possible, rather than treating the disease by themselves or with other methods.

“All women should get their uterine stem cells screened once a year from the time they are married until they are 70 years old. Doing so would detect early stages of cervical cancer and it could almost be one hundred per cent cured,” Sokha said.

“For parents with daughters 10 years old and older, they should bring them to get vaccinations three times in their whole life in order to protect them from the disease. Vaccination is an effective preventive measure for girls, especially if they are still single. So before getting married, they should get anti-cervical cancer vaccination.”

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