Friday July 25 2008

Stopping the silent killer

By Rachel Kabejja

The silent killer as cervical cancer as popularly called brought together hundreds of both locals and foreigners in a common cause to find ways of reducing its prevalence.

The 2nd Stop cervical cancer in Africa conference was held at Imperial Royale Hotel Kampala under the theme “Accelerating access to Human papillloma virus (HPV )vaccines,â€Â� drawing participants from the African state houses (first ladies or their representatives), parliamentarians, health ministers, doctors, ambassadors, speakers and delegates from different parts of the world.  Accelerating access to this vaccine was seen as a way to help curb cervical cancer, the leading cause of deaths among women in Africa who are at the prime of life.

Cervical cancer is the growth of abnormal cells in the cervix (the mouth of the uterus) and is the second leading cause of deaths of women in the world after breast cancer however. It is caused by a virus called Human papillloma virus (HPV), which is passed mainly through skin-to-skin genital contact. Every sexually active woman is at risk of getting cervical cancer and the great prevalence, according to Glaxo Smith Kline, a cervical cancer vaccine manufacturer is women aged less than 25 years.

It is estimated that 80 percent of cancer suffered by women in Africa is cervical cancer, and the worst bit of it is that these cases are reported while in their late stages when little help or nothing can be done to avert the situation.

According to Dr Richard Nduhura, the State Minister for Health, 75 percent of women in Uganda are infected with the virus which causes cervical cancer, while Dr Stephen Malinga, the Minister of health revealed 80 percent of these cases are diagnosed in late stages. He recommends that every woman (mostly those who are sexually active) who visit the hospital or clinics should count those visits incomplete unless an examination or test is carried out by the medical worker.

The HPV vaccine is the newest treatment of cervical cancer on the global market where girls and younger women are vaccinated against the HPV virus which causes the disease. The programme has already taken ground in the western district of Ibanda and is spear headed by PATH.

However, this treatment is expensive and throughout the conference, pleas from all the speakers and delegates present were to look for a way of distributing the vaccine at a subsided fee or freely supplying the medicine in Africa.

The First Lady of Uganda Janet Museveni who was the chief guest noted that women suffering from cervical cancer are often stigmatised by many people even their closest friends and relatives because of the smell they have as a result of this disease. They also face problems with their spouses and it is sad to say that these are the poorest women.

She called for the strengthening of African women economically and partnership with policy makers and goodwill ambassadors.
Ms Jan Agosti, the senior advisor of the Bill and Melinda Gates foundation announced that they are looking into working with Gavi funds, to see that the vaccine is effectively supplied to those who need it most at a subsided fee.
Princess Nikky Onyeri, the founder of Princess Nikky Breast Cancer Foundation  amidst tears of joy about the high turn up of participants gave her testimony of how she thought she had breast cancer and that thought almost killed her hence rising to the challenge of helping to save women suffering from cancer.

The two-day conference that was organised by Princess Nikky Breast Cancer Foundation and The Melinda Gates Foundation, World Health Organisation and Usaid  discussed, approved and encouraged screening as the first element on the way forward for the women in this campaign. Vaccination will do a great job in coming years and parents, stakeholders and policy makers should lead the way by going for the screening though the pap smear test.
Ms Museveni was announced the first chairlady of the “Africa Stop Cervical cancer campaign amidst great applause from the audience and the inauguration ceremony will be  held in October.