By Etop Ekanem

January is cervical cancer awareness month. According to WHO, cervical cancer is the fourth most common cancer in women. In recent years, an estimated 570,000 women were diagnosed with cervical cancer worldwide and about 311,000 women died from the disease. In Nigeria, one woman dies every hour of cervical cancer.

Almost all cervical cancer cases (99 per cent) are linked to infection with high-risk human papillomaviruses (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. This has led to various effective primary (HPV vaccination) and secondary prevention approaches (screening for, and treating precancerous lesions) which will help curb most cervical cancer cases.

Cervical cancer is preventable 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.

In most countries, there is limited access to these preventative measures and cervical cancer is often not identified until it has further advanced and symptoms develop.

Thus, birthing organisations such as EMAC Foundation, with the aim of raising more awareness and getting people informed about cervical cancer prevention through screening and vaccination against HPV.

According to the founder of EMAC Foundation, Tewa Onasanya, “Cervical cancer presents a pre-cancerous stage before it becomes cancerous. It is highly unacceptable for women to be dying from a form of cancer that is preventable when caught early through screening and vaccination.”

Some of the practical approaches of EMACto raise awareness for cervical cancer prevention include: Smear it campaign; Screening people (less privileged) free of charge for cervical cancer; Organising annual cervical cancer awareness and prevention events in January and September every year.

“The SMEARIT campaign is a comprehensive approach to raise more awareness for cervical cancer prevention, screen, treat people with pre-cancer cells and work towards eliminating cervical cancer as a public health problem. The essence of the SMEARIT campaign is to reach and screen a 1,000 people every year.The first stop for free screening is the Amuwo Odofin community. Free screening will be offered to women this January.

“This campaign indulges ladies to participate by posting selfies of them having smeared lipsticks on their faces, on social media using the hashtag (#SMEARIT) and by nominating all their friends to do same by supporting the campaign and to remind them to get screened to reduce the risk of cervical cancer.

“The EMAC Foundation cervical cancer prevention campaign since 2010 has helped develop guidance and tools on how to prevent and control cervical cancer through vaccination, screening and awareness of invasive cancer knowledge by making information available to people. EMAC has since worked with volunteers and partners to develop and implementfree screening for women in Nigeria. More information about cervical cancer and EMAC Foundation can be found on www.smearitafrica.com.”

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