Deputy permanent secretary in the Ministry of Health and Wellness (MoH&W), Dr Morrison Sinvula has called on women and their partners to unite in eradicating deaths from cervical cancer.
Speaking at the HPV Self Collection and Cervical Cancer Awareness Launch held under the theme ‘Eliminate Cervical Cancer in Botswana’ at Nkoyaphiri on Friday, Sinvula said cervical cancer is preventable.
He, therefore, said the country cannot afford to lose more lives due to the disease. “Cervical cancer is the fourth most common cancer amongst women globally, with 570,000 new cases and 311,000 deaths in 2018,” said Sinvula. “It is one of the leading causes of cancer deaths amongst women in low and middle income countries, as more than 85% of deaths occur in less developed regions where the disease distribution coincides strongly with HIV infection.”
According to the National Cancer Registry, 11,398 were diagnosed and registered between 2005 and 2012 in Botswana.
Sinvula said cervical cancer was one of the most preventable and curable forms of cancer as long as it is detected early and managed effectively.
He said it occurs four to five times more frequently in immune-compromised women, such as those with HIV. While it can take 15 to 20 years to develop in women with normal immune systems, it can progress within five to 10 years in women with weakened immune systems. Sinvula also said HIV positive HPV co-infected women had been found to develop cervical cancer at ages up to 15 years younger than HIV negative patients. He said amongst women living with HIV, HPV prevalence rates were higher than in the general population.
“The focus on cervical cancer is appropriate and the goal of providing universal access to preventive service is a noble one. The early detection and early treatment of cervical cancer do not require sophisticated facilities and equipment or highly specialised staff,” he said.
Jhpiego Botswana country director, Dr Moses Kitheka said they had partnered with the local governments for some time in piloting HPV Self Collection where the project started in Kweneng. He said during the study, many women accepted it and found it simple as they got their results on the same day.
Kitheka added that after HPV sample collection, women had to wait for their results for an hour or could collect them at a later date if they lived far.
He also said the process was simple and had privacy.
For her part, PEPFAR representative Nwando Diallo said her organisation has invested in the prevention of cervical cancer and treatment of pre-cancerous lesions amongst women living with HIV. She added that in close partnership with MoH&W, the government through its agency, the Centre for Disease for Control (CDC) and Prevention, supports the Botswana national cervical cancer prevention programme in implementation and expansion of cervical cancer prevention activities.