For Ghanaian women, cervical cancer leads to more deaths than any other cancer. Incidence and mortality rates of cervical cancer in Ghana remain one of the highest in the world, and they continue to rise every year. The World Health Organization (WHO) predicts that more than 2,000 Ghanaian women die annually from this disease.
Cervical cancer is most often caused by a virus called Human Papilloma Virus (HPV), which is spread through unprotected sexual contact. The virus infects cells of the cervix and can cause them to mutate and become cancerous. Those at greatest risk for cervical cancer are women with many sexual partners, weakened immune systems, or other sexually transmitted infections (STIs) such as HIV, syphilis, and gonorrhea, as these increase a person’s risk of contracting HPV. The best ways to prevent HPV infection and cervical cancer is to get the HPV vaccine and to use condoms during sex. The HPV vaccine is recommended for all adolescents and young adults and must be administered in three doses with one month between the first and second dose and 6 months between the second and third dose.
It is equally important to be screened regularly for cervical cancer. In Ghana, the National Screening Program recommends that women aged 25-45 years old get screened once a year using Visualization with Acetic Acid, a kind of test that detects pre-cancerous cells so that women can be treated before they actually develop cancer. After the age of 45, women should receive an annual PAP smear, which can detect pre-cancerous and cancerous cells in the cervix. Unfortunately, the World Health Survey reports that only 2.7% of Ghanaian women are regularly screened for cervical cancer, and only a handful of hospitals and clinics provide full screening services. With regular screening, many cases of cervical cancer can be detected and treated before they become cancerous. Without early diagnosis and treatment, cervical cancer can spread and lead to death.
With WAAF’s vision of ensuring health for all, screening for Cervical Cancer has become a focus also because women living with HIV are five times more at risk of developing cervical cancer. To ensure we are able to save Women, various WAAF staff have undergone training offered by Dr. Theodora Pepera a UK trained Consultant Gyneacologist, Accredited Colposcopist and Colposcoy Trainer as well as the Cervical Cancer Prevention Training Centr of the Battor Hospital. Armed with this skills in conducting cervical screening using both VIA and Colposcopy, WAAF is burnt on contributing tremendously towards secondary prevention of cervical cancer.
WAAF has recently become a member of the West Africa Cervical Cancer Prevention Consortium, a group of likeminded entities from Ghana, Cameroon and Nigeria who together submitted a proposal to UNITAID for support in scaling up Cervical Cancer Prevention across West Africa.
Cervical Cancer, as fatal as it can get, also remains a condition begging to be detected and WAAF will ensure we detect it and save women in Ghana.