Every day, 15 women lose battle with 100% preventable cervical cancer

Published: February 4, 2016
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Dr Sher Shah Syed, senior gynaecologist and obstetrician addressing a press briefing organised by United Against Cervical Cancer at Karachi Press Club. PHOTO: NNI

Dr Sher Shah Syed, senior gynaecologist and obstetrician addressing a press briefing organised by United Against Cervical Cancer at Karachi Press Club. PHOTO: NNI

KARACHI: Cervical cancer is 100% preventable yet at least 15 women in Pakistan die every day from the disease, said Dr Sher Shah Syed, senior gynaecologist and obstetrician on Wednesday.

Dr Syed demanded the government include the vaccine for cervical cancer in the national immunisation programme to save more lives of women. He was speaking at a press briefing organised by United Against Cervical Cancer at Karachi Press Club ahead of the World Cancer Day, which is marked today.

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What is cervical cancer?

It is the cancer of the cervix and, unlike some other cancers, it is caused by a virus (human papillomavirus) which is common and easily transmissible, said Dr Syed, adding it the second largest cancer-related killer of women.

Crisis in Pakistan

Pakistan bears the burden of 7,311 women fatalities due to cervical cancer every year and ranks seventh out of 50 such countries, he pointed out, adding that the ranking shows how grave the situation in Pakistan is.

“Our population is unaware due to social and cultural barriers that prevail,” he said. It is time for the government, policymakers and parents to first take measures to create awareness among the masses about the disease and then to ensure that our women are screened and vaccinated against this deadly but preventable disease, he added.

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The World Health Organisation (WHO) study shows that the incidence of cervical cancer in Pakistan was less than nine per 100,000 back in 2002. But it moved to 13.6 per 100,000 in 2008. The country is moving from low-risk levels to moderate-risk levels making it a danger zone where young girls are more at risk than before, he pointed out.

Prevention better than cure

Senior paediatrician Dr MN Lal spoke about the cost of treatment. “The treatment is very painful and costly,” he said. “But prevention is easy and accessible.”

Quoting a WHO study, Dr Lal said that numerous tools and technologies exist to prevent cervical cancer. These interventions remain largely inaccessible to girls and women who need them the most, he added.

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The best time to get vaccinated is before girls become sexually active, he said, adding that all girls above nine can benefit from the vaccine. “Culturally, we spend money on dowry and weddings of our daughters but, when it comes to their health, we ignore them.” He told parents that the best gift they can give women on their wedding would be vaccination against this killer disease. Pakistan has an increasing trend of cervical cancer cases, which are normally diagnosed at advanced stages when a woman is in the prime of her life, taking care of her children and family, he pointed out.

“I request the government include it [vaccine] in the vaccination programme,” said Dr Syed. “The vaccination should at least be available at basic health units or rural health centres,” he suggested.

Published in The Express Tribune, February 4th,  2016.

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