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Cervical Cancer: A persistent public health challenge


Ntsoaki Motaung

As Cervical Awareness Month unfolds, the World Health Organization (WHO) underscores the significance of cervical cancer as the fourth most prevalent cancer among women globally.

The strong link between cervical cancer and Human Papillomavirus (HPV) infections is a key aspect of understanding and combating the disease.

“Almost all cervical cancer cases, 99 per cent are linked to infection with high-risk HPV, an extremely common virus transmitted through sexual contact. Although most infections with HPV resolve spontaneously and cause no symptoms, persistent infection can cause cervical cancer in women,” WHO reports. 

In 2018, approximately 570,000 women received a cervical cancer diagnosis, and about 311,000 succumbed to the disease.

WHO emphasises the efficacy of the HPV vaccine as a primary preventive measure. Combined with secondary preventions like screening and treating precancerous lesions, most cervical cancer cases can be averted. 

“When diagnosed, cervical cancer is one of the most successfully treatable forms of cancer, as long as it is detected early and managed effectively. Cancers diagnosed in late stages can also be controlled with appropriate treatment and palliative care,” WHO adds.

In Lesotho, the Ministry of Health is actively conducting a National HPV vaccine Campaign, targeting girls aged 9-14 from across the country.

Tumisang Mokoai, the Ministry’s Public Relations Manager, stresses the campaign’s objective to ensure no girl is left behind.

He indicated that the campaign is also aimed at making sure that no vaccine goes to because it has expired as it was reported by the paper that, in January this year some of the vaccine will expire while the next batch is expected to expire in March.

The recent International Conference on Public Health in Africa (CPHIA 2023) in Lusaka, Zambia, marked a pivotal moment with GAVI the Vaccine Alliance re-launching the HPV program. 

This initiative aligns with WHO’s new recommendations for a single-dose HPV vaccine. GAVI aims to vaccinate 86 million girls by 2025, focusing on lower and middle-income countries.

Dr. Kabelo Mputsoe, Clinical Radiation Oncologist for the Ministry of Health in Lesotho, highlights the severity of cervical cancer in the country. “Cervical cancer is the most common female cancer and most common cause of cancer death in Lesotho,” she stated, emphasising the curability of early-stage cervical cancer with radiotherapy.

She advised regular cancer screening, particularly for HIV-positive women.

The challenge, however, remains substantial with over 40 per cent of women diagnosed in the late stages of cervical cancer. 

“According to the recent cancer statistics from June 2020 to August 2022, there were 12 cancers registered at Senkatana Cancer Clinic, with cervical cancer topping the list with 560 cases,” Dr Mputsoe reveals. 

The statistics also show a higher prevalence of cancer among women in Lesotho, constituting 81 per cent of the cases in 2022.

This data and the ongoing efforts by health organisations underscore the critical need for increased awareness, prevention, and early detection in the fight against cervical cancer.

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