By Levinus Nwabughiogu-Abuja
Specialists in cancer management and treatments have urged the federal government to make screening of women for cervical cancer a project.
This, they said, would enable the country attain the global target of 70 percent screening by the year 2030, as set up by the World Health Organization (WHO).
The experts however said the realization of the goal will be enabled by strong political will and robust awareness among the eligible women.
In a keynote address at the roundtable discussion in the prevention and management of cervical cancer in Nigeria with the theme “Attaining 70% cervical screening: Best practices for low resource settings”, held virtually by participants across the country at the instance of End Cervical Cancer Nigeria Initiative for the May edition, a member of the WHO experts Committee on Elimination of Cervical cancer, Professor Cyril Dim said the problem, though curable, has assumed the status of a public health burden with about 90 percent happening in sub Saharan Africa.
Dissecting the distribution of virus attributable cancers in females in West Africa, Dim believed HPV vaccination of girls would have prevented them.
He explained that the recommended best practices in the current circumstance was high performance cervical screening, through high risk HPV DNA test, and in alternative, existing program with quality assurance should be continued.
He said: “Cervical cancer screening should be taken as a project with renewed commitment across the national and sub- national levels. Unless and until cervical screening is projectized, which will remove it from existing bureacracy, with adequate budgetary allocation, it might be difficult attaining the 70% target. All countries must reach and maintain an incidence rate of 4 per 100,000 women.”
Discussants at the roundtable discussion who included the first lady of Kebbi State, Dr Zainab Shinkafi Bagudu, identified poor health attitudes of women, weak health systems and low level of awareness as major hindrances to cervical cancer screening.
“We need to look into how we can reach out to our community and work there more. The funding is not adequate, it is just like dropping into an ocean, we need more funding to get more results”, she said.
Bagudu however noted that one model approach to increased cervical cancer screening may not be adequate for the entire country.
Also speaking, another discussant, Dr Matilda Kerry of Clinton Health Access Initiative (CHAI) Andrew and state Lead on Cervical cancer Program, Lagos State, advocated an integrated approach of cervical cancer screening program into the existing health structure, observing it will help in reaching more women.
Similarly, a call by Dr George Ikaraoha of JHPIEGO-RISE was made for male inclusion in raising the bar of awareness among Nigerian women on the need for cervical cancer screening.
Earlier in her remarks, the moderator of the roundtable discussion, Dr Yusra Sahalu lamented that cervical cancer was the most common Gynaecologic cancer in Nigeria despite being almost 100% preventable
Ms. Jennifer Dent from BioVentures for Global Health (BVGH) in her remarks also emphasized that “any screening is better than no screening”, explaining that disparities between communities needed to be taken into consideration.
She also noted that low resource nations must continue to screen with whatever resources available, even if those methods might not be the ideal ones.
Another panelist at the discussion, Dr Adewumi Babatunde of Quinta Health also believed that if women were given other screening options like self sampling, they were more likely to embrace it rather than invasive methods.
In her closing remarks, the technical adviser to the Cervical Cancer Elimination Roundtable Discussion Series, Dr Zara Mairami expressed the need for bottom-up approach of screening by health workers in reaching the poorly served in the rural communities.
She also emphasized the need to adapt locally effective strategies to reach all eligible Nigerian in other to achieve the 70% screening target.