By Sharon Atieno

In a bid to eliminate cervical cancer that kills nine women daily in Kenya, the Kenyan Government and its partners today launched the second national cervical cancer awareness week and walk.

The event which was held in Kanthonzweni, Makueni County aims to raise awareness about cervical cancer in the country while offering free cervical cancer screenings from January 19-25, in a move to increase rates of early detection and treatment of the disease.

The Global cancer Observatory, ranks Kenya among the top 20 countries globally with the highest rates of cervical cancer in women of reproductive age. Currently, it is estimated that there are 5,250 new cervical cancer cases in Kenya while the mortality rate stands at 3,268 annually.

According to Dr. Mary Nyangasi, Head of Kenya’s National Cancer Control Programme, despite the disease being preventable and curable in its early stages, many women are not aware of the disease and current screening rates are extremely low.

“Our aim this week is to increase public awareness about cervical cancer as a preventable disease and to catalyze action towards its elimination as a public health problem in Kenya,” she said.

In May 2018, Dr Tedros Ghebreyesus, Director General of the World Health Organization (WHO), issued a global call to action for the elimination of cervical cancer, challenging world leaders to ensure that girls globally are vaccinated against HPV and that every eligible woman is screened and treated for pre-cancerous lesions.

Since then, Kenya has participated in the development of a global strategy for cervical cancer elimination and has embraced the proposed targets for 2030, which include: 90% of girls fully vaccinated with the HPV vaccine by 15 years of age; 70% of women screened with a high-precision test at 35 and 45 years of age; and 90% of women identified with cervical disease receive treatment and care.

“Every day nine Kenyan women die from cervical cancer,” said Simon Karo, CEO, Melchizedek Hospital. “This is unacceptable, and now is the time for all of us to roll-up our sleeves and act to eliminate this devastating disease.”

Though routine cervical cancer screening is highly advised for women of reproductive age as it can help in preventing cervical cancer and early detection, when it’s easy to treat as well as reducing mortality; the rate of screening coverage in the country is still low- with only 16% of women having ever been screened. The result being late diagnosis when treatment options are limited and costly.

“Cervical cancer can take many years, even decades to develop and women usually do not have symptoms until more advanced stages,” said Benda N. Kithaka, Co-founder, Women 4 Cancer Early Detection & Treatment. “Screening allows us to can identify and treat pre-cancers, stopping cervical cancer before it starts.”

When precancerous lesions are identified and removed, there is an almost 100 percent survival rate with appropriate evaluation, treatment and follow-up care.

In addition to Human Papilloma Virus (HPV) screening which is highly recommended by the National Cancer Screening Guidelines, Kenya has also rolled out the HPV vaccine in its national routine immunization schedule aiming to vaccinate 800,000 girls aged 10 years annually. The vaccine is free in all public health facilities and given in two doses, six months apart.

“The HPV vaccine offers a tremendous opportunity to protect our young girls’ future, and we should all support this effort,” said Barrack Owino, HPV Vaccine Program Coordinator, Women 4 Cancer Early Detection & Treatment. “By vaccinating them before they become exposed to HPV, when the vaccine is most effective, we’re ensuring that they can go on to live healthy and fulfilled lives, and one day become mothers themselves.” 

The screenings will take place at all county public health hospitals throughout the country as well as in Access Afya Clinics and Melchizedek hospital in Nairobi. It will also be carried out in medical camps in Uhuru Park, Nairobi and Kathonzweni Market, Makueni.