Namibia to adopt new mode of cervical cancer screening

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By Lahja Nashuuta

Namibia National Cervix Cancer Prevention Guidelines that were launched last week have recommended that the country start using acetic acid screening for pre-cancerous and cancerous cervical lesions.

According to US’s Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the visual inspection of the cervix with acetic acid (VIA) is an effective, and an inexpensive screening test that can be combined with simple treatment procedure for early cervical lesions, if it is done by trained health workers.

Cervical cancer is the second-leading cause of cancer-related deaths in Namibia and the most common female cancer in women aged 15 to 44 years in the country.

According to SADC Human Papillomavirus and Related Diseases 2017 report, about 132 new cervical cancer cases are diagnosed annually in Namibia out of 8,652 cervical cancer-related deaths occurred in

The Deputy Minister of Health and Social Services, Juliet Kavetuna confirmed that the number of cases of cervical cancer is  increasing and increased with 50% in the last seven years.

Kavetuna was speaking at the launch of the National Cervical Cancer Prevention Guidelines by the Ministry of Health and Social Services in collaboration with US Embassy in Windhoek recently.

She said although there are national cervical cancer prevention programmes in the country, the incidence of invasive cervical cancer remains unacceptably high, cases are often diagnosed late, and many patients have the poor response to treatment.

Kavetuna said the guidelines will provide the knowledge and information necessary for the effective training of healthcare providers.

Thereby, it will ensure that the country will soon have competent service providers, programme champions as well as informed support services and programme managers in all health regions and districts.

The guidelines that contain nine instructive chapters and 10 detailed appendices, which address all areas related to the clinical practice of cervical cancer screening in Namibia, also form an integral part of the ministry’s wider reproductive health programme and the national cancer control plan.

One of the highlights of the guidelines is the new phase for cervical cancer screening that includes the ‘screen and treat’ approach, using visualisation with acetic acid called VIA.

She said the new approach will reduce the long waiting times for women to be identified with precancerous lesions and referred for further treatment.

Unlike the old system, by the time this care is received, the cancer is often at an advanced stage.

“If we can identify women who have pre-cancerous lesions and treat these lesions before they become cancerous, we are making a real impact on real lives of Namibian women.

“This is even more urgent for women also living with HIV because their cervical lesions are four to five times more likely to become deadly cancers. Truly, this is a problem that cannot wait any longer,” Kavetuna said. According to Eric Dziuban, Namibia country director at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, VIA is simple, cost-effective, and highly efficient.

It utilises something as humble as table vinegar to identify women with abnormal precancerous lesions.

Acetic acid (or vinegar), when applied to the women’s cervix, will cause the cervix to change colour if there is the presence of abnormal cells.

The healthcare provider can immediately see the colour change, and treat the abnormal cells with a freezing technique called cryotherapy.

By the end of a 15-minute clinical visit, a woman can go from having the threat of pre-cancerous cells growing and turning into cancer, to being completely treated and healthy.

“That is the kind of high-impact medical services that we providers love to give, and that Namibians want to receive, and now it is here and ready to be spread across the country,” he said.

He said the Directorate of Primary Health Care has already started giving training to all health care providers on VIA and cryotherapy at health centres and will soon be introduced at a community level.

“As we launch these guidelines today, I call not only on health care providers to effectively implement the guidance but to the women in Namibia, to take these opportunities that will be provided, to get this necessary screening at the right time,” he said.

 

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