Cervical Cancer still a health concern

Around 2-3 women in a month are left with serious cervical cancer problem.

A leading Doctor in Vanuatu, said it’s sad because at this stage we cannot treat them.

Around 30 in 1000 population in Vanuatu gets cervical cancer, a number Dr Boniface Damutalau says is too high like Fiji and in the Solomon Islands. He says in Australia, the figure is 5 times lower, with one out of every 1000 women developing cervical cancer there.

Dr Damutalau said many women in Vanuatu find it difficult to go for a cervical cancer screening.

90% of Cervical Cancer cases is caused by Human Papilloma virus pass from one person to another during sex.

“When they come for early check up, it can help prevent them going to the next stage which is expensive; Women who smoke are at a high risk also to get the cancer because their immune system not longer functions properly if they got the virus.” Dr Damutalau said.

Jerol Sakita, a nurse who has head the Vanuatu Family Health Association’s cervical cancer screening program before said all sexually active women to take a pap smear test to check for the cancer, but Mrs Sakita says while many women have received cervical cancer awareness information, they are not taking the disease seriously enough to get the check done.

She wants husbands, fathers and boyfriends to get behind the issue and to encourage the women in their families to get checked for the disease.

The risk factor identified by Dr Damutalau are girls having sex at an early age and having multiple partners.

15 women every year are left to die because no further treatment is available in Vanuatu to treat Stage two and three of Cervical Cancer.

Reproductive Health in Vanuatu reveal this in 2019 and said it’s a sad story for many families, saying most of the women are the back bones of the family.

“Vanuatu today can only treat stage one of Cervical Cancer which involves surgical removal of the cervix and uterus,” Dr Damutalau said.

“In terms of treatment, we don’t have the facility here in Vanuatu; The other places like New Caledonia, New Zealand and Australia only have that facility,” Said Dr Damutalau.

“But most of the Pacific Island nations don’t have that because its quite an expensive treatment.”

For stage three doctors usually advised them to get further treatment overseas, but the cost is to high for many families.

Stage three of Cervical Cancer requires radiation therapy which involves strong X-rays to kill cancer cells and Vanuatu lacks such facility.

Every year, January is the Cervical Cancer health awareness month.

A VBTC Tokbak Show caller from Malekula said it’s time for people to think and be faithful to one partner.

Mr Damutalau said anything around prevention is the way to go.

“We like to see more women coming for screening and also to see the program be expanded to other remote areas in Vanuatu,” Dr Damutalau said.

A Midwife from Vila Central Hospital, Harriette Obed said when the virus is inside a mother, the symptoms cannot be spotted.

“The mother can be healthy until she spot the symptoms; some of the signs of cervical cancer are blood spots or light bleeding between or following women’s periods; menstrual bleeding that is longer and heavier than usual; bleeding after sexual intercourse, douching, a pelvic examination or menopause; increased vaginal discharge; pain during sexual intercourse; and unexplained, persistent pelvic and or back pain.

“The virus can stay up to 10-15 years and develop to cancer that we cannot deal with.”

“A woman can see the symptoms but it can be after 10-15 years.  Some they came when the cancer is already worst.

The Ministry of Heath is planning a vaccination campaign on HPV vaccine for girls age 9-13 to prevent young girls getting the virus.

Australian medical researchers have developed a vaccine called Gardasil 9 that protects against the HPV viruses that cause the cancer.

Women can get tested in health facilities such as the Norsup Hospital in Malekula; the Northern Provincial Hospital in Santo; the Lolowai Hospital in Ambae; the Vanuatu Family Health Clinic and Vila Central Hospital in Port Vila; and in other clinics across the country.

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