By Sharon Atieno
Though preventable, cervical cancer leads to the death of nine women daily in Kenya, as a result of late detection.
“Cancer can be cured if presented early, however, if you present late, chances of cure are minimal,” said Dr. Mary Nyangasi, Head of the National Cancer Programme at a round-table meeting convened by women 4 cancer in Nairobi. “In Kenya most of our patients present late that is why our death rate is very high.”
The disease, referred to as a silent disease, progresses slowly taking between five to twenty years before symptoms start to show.
When Sally Agallo, a 49- year old woman was diagnosed with cervical cancer in 2007, she had not shown any symptoms. She had gone for a pap smear test as part of medical check up for staff members for the organization she was working for.
“When I was told I had stage two cervical cancer, I was not experiencing any symptoms,” she says.
Being that she is a person living with HIV, the doctor suggested that she undergoes surgery in order to save her life as her body could not take chemo or radiotherapy, due to low number of white cells which help to fight diseases.
“The doctor suggested hysterectomy, a surgery to remove the womb as it was the only way to save my life,” the cervical cancer survivor recalls.
Dr. Nyangasi adds that early detection makes treatment cost cheaper and less costly to the economy as opposed to late detection which requires expensive treatment methods that strain the health system and economy in general.
Decrying the low number of women going for cervical cancer screening in Kenya- 16 percent- she notes that more needs to be done to increase the numbers.
“Cervical cancer is 100 percent preventable through HPV vaccination, screening of women in the target age group and treating of women with precancerous lesions and invasive cancers,” noted Dr. Nyangasi.
Being that HPV is the primary cause of more than 99 percent of all the cervical cancers, protection against HPV infection would potentially protect people from cervical cancer.
“The introduction of HPV vaccine within our set-up has potential to cut back the burden of cervical cancer by close to 70 percent if we achieve a good enough coverage of about 80 percent,” revealed Dr. Collins Tabu, Head of the National Immunization and Vaccines Programme.
Noting that the vaccine is to complement other preventive efforts such as abstinence or delayed sexual debut and promotion of faithfulness, he says that for the countries that have introduced the HPV vaccine, most have been able to have more than 50 percent reduction in incidence of precancerous lesions among the younger women.
After the successful piloting of the HPV vaccine in Kitui County, the government plans a national roll-out of the vaccine in November for young girls aged 10 years, this is after addressing various issues surrounding the sustainability of the vaccine.
“Once the vaccines are introduced they will be available in a non-interruptible fashion in the years to come,” affirms Dr. Tabu.