Two women die every day from cervical cancer while five die from childbirth in Papua New Guinea because some tests and treatments are not suitable.
This is the grim statistics given by Public Health Acting Director Dr Lutty Amos.
January is cervical cancer awareness month and gynecologist Amos says the country needs good and affordable screening processes for treatment to be given to women who show abnormal cervical cells.
A quiet yet destructive killer among women, most do not know if they have it until in its late stages. And a pap smear which is currently the only means of testing that’s available in the country is not very effective as it’s not feasible.
She says pap smears are based on the recall system. “That means when you go for a checkup, you will have to go back after some time to check results and treatment identified depending on the stages of the abnormal cells identified.”
Amos says the recall system does not work when people change their numbers or have their phones stolen making follow up for results difficult. “It is not a feasible screening method as it needs a lot of lab backup that takes time, equipment and trained manpower to screen and give treatment options,” she says.
She says a new type of screening process called Visual Inspection Acidic acid (VIA) test has been on trial for the past two years in Goroka and Mt Hagen that has proven more effective as treatment was available right after screening. “The VIA was developed for less developed countries, like for visual screening and treatment. It’s more effective as it takes less equipment and faster result time for treatment to be given,” says Amos.
She says VIA is a see and treat method for settings that can be carried out in a remote areas. “What we do is apply vinegar on the cervix area to check for color change disfiguration. When the VIA positively stains the abnormal cells, treatment can then be done,” says Amos.
She says cryo- therapy is the treatment where the cervix is frozen using nitro- oxide and carbon dioxide to freeze it. “The abnormal cells then freeze and die out.” It has been trialed in Eastern and Western Highlands.