The second leading cause of cancer deaths recorded by the Ministry of Public Health is cervical cancer. This is according to 2015 Cancer Surveillance Report which was unveiled by the Ministry last year. The report contains the state of cancers in Guyana over a 10-year period and reveals that cervical cancer accounted for 1, 014 deaths.
But keen efforts are being made by the Ministry to tackle this form of cancer. And one of the strategic tactics being embraced by the Ministry is the Visual Inspection with Acetic Acid (VIA) screening. This screening method is one that is intended to help with the early detection of cancer with a view of introducing treatment that could help halt its evolution.
And the Public Health Ministry is poised to expand access to the service. Dr Shamdeo Persaud has noted that while the service is offered free at a number of health facilities there are some that are yet to do so.
Dr. Persaud added, “We have been looking at the possibility of bringing on more coordination at the level of the Regional Health Services so that they can work with all of the districts.”
This is particularly important, Dr. Persaud explained, since although several of the larger regional and district hospitals are already offering the service there are some smaller ones health facilities and health centres that do not.
“It is available in each Region now but not in every area within those Regions,” said. Dr Persaud.
Although unable to give a precise number of women accessing VIA screening, the CMO pointed out that “uptake has been really good and the promotional work in the workplaces, even from person to person experiences shared has helped with an improvement of the uptake of this service.
“None of the clinics are underutilised; they are well utilised I must say…Sometimes they even run out of supplies because the demand is so high, so that is something that we have to continue to work with.”
Minister Persaud said that deliberate efforts are being made to expand its VIA testing capacity. “Our main goal this year is to improve access. We really want more people to access the good things we are doing to ensure that not everybody has to travel to Georgetown or New Amsterdam or Suddie or Linden to get things like these (VIA screening) done.”
Based on details of the Report, the Chronic Diseases Director, Dr. Morris Edwards, revealed that more than half of the cases of cervical cancer were found to be in women below the age of 55 with those 15-39 accounting for the majority.
While reporting on the disease might not have been of the best in the early years, Dr Edwards did share his belief that the ongoing VIA programme that has been implemented by the Ministry of Public Health, has the potential of addressing a perceived reporting challenge.
But this may not be possible until efforts are made to actually utilise the data garnered. Dr Edwards at the launch of the Report last year said that the state of affairs that obtains is that “that data is lying in the VIA Clinic at the Georgetown Hospital. Nobody looks at that data; that data doesn’t get translated to us at the Central Ministry of Public Health.”
However, moves have since been made, with the collaboration of the Pan American Health Organisation, to have the accumulated data entered into a laptop. There are currently some 294 entries thus far, Dr Edwards disclosed. This means that all women who have been screened for cervical cancer, regardless of positive or negative results, their information will be entered into the system.
Like the other cancers there has been limited staging of cancer of the cervix. Staging speaks to efforts made by medical personnel to determine the prognosis and treatment options.
And according to Dr Edwards, in 66 per cents of the women diagnosed with cancer there was no staging.
“It pains me as a man to be making these statements…all it requires is to pass a speculum and take a sample and this can be easily staged. Two-thirds of the women don’t have any staging and the rest of the women are being diagnosed late with cervical cancer,” the Chronic Diseases Director had lamented.
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