As part of its efforts to support women’s rights to sexual and reproductive health, the Guyana Responsible Parenthood Association (GRPA) yesterday launched its Visual Inspection with Acetic Acid (VIA) screening programme to detect cervical cancer. Simultaneously, a regional training programme catering to local health professionals and others from Belize, Trinidad, Grenada, Suriname and St Lucia was introduced at a simple ceremony venued at the GRPA Quamina Street, Georgetown, headquarters.
With funding from the International Planned Parenthood Federation, the training is being held in collaboration with the Ministry of Health and the Georgetown Public Hospital Corporation, with Dr. John Varallo of JHPIEGO, an affiliate of the John Hopkins University, as the facilitator.
His task will be to train both trainers and providers of VIA screening.
The focus on VIA screening and training comes at a time when Guyana is recording very high rates of cervical cancer, according to GRPA Executive Director, Ms Patricia Sheerattan-Bisnauth. GRPA, she said, is already offering pap smears and will continue to do so along with the VIA screening; services which she believes will reach a wide range of women across Guyana. “Sexual and reproduction rights are really vital for a healthy Guyana…it is very important for healthy families and for us to address many other problems we face as a nation and we hope at GRPA we will continue to step-up and step-forward and increase and enhance the services that we provide,” said Sheerattan-Bisnauth.
Currently GRPA offers a wide range of sexual and non-sexual reproductive health services.
And although Guyana is known to have one of the highest cervical cancer burdens in the world, Dr. Varallo observed that innovative strides are continually being made here. This, he said, has been in recognition of the fact that pap smears are not something that cannot be done widely on a national level. With VIA screening, women will be offered an affordable low-tech service that provides high quality results, Dr. Varallo noted. “Although it is low technology it is an accurate test and it links screening with treatment…you get the results in a minute and if everything looks nice and healthy it is empowering, but then if there is a pre-cancerous legion then we can treat it at the same time,” informed the JHPIEGO official.
“I am proud to be a part of what Guyana has done…they brought this innovative approach to the country and not only are they doing it in the country but they are being recognised globally. Guyana is actually a leader in the global cervical forums and with the partnership with GRPA we are bringing the other Caribbean countries here,” noted Dr. Varallo.
The double launch yesterday was graced by Minister of Health, Dr. Bheri Ramsaran, who noted that Guyana has reached yet another milestone. “We are happy that we have been recognised as a centre for training,” said the Minister even as he emphasised that VIA screening “is an approach that is best suited for resource-poor environments.”
Alluding to the pap-smear which is perhaps still the gold standard to test for cervical cancer, the Health Minister explained that it is however a process that requires a microscopist who takes smears that must then be processed and can at times present some challenges. “I want to make it clear we are not discarding the value of the pap-smear but we are saying that the science of VIA is well established,” noted the Minister.
Moreover, the GRPA yesterday started facilitating VIA screening at its Quamina Street clinic and will continue today at the GPHC and tomorrow at the Police Association.
The simple launching ceremony yesterday was attended by a number of health officials, including Director of Maternal and Child Health, Dr. Janice Woolford and also in attendance were members of GRPA’s Board of Directors.
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