Incidence of cervical cancer high in southern Namibia

05 Feb 2016 07:40am
KEETMANSHOOP, 05 FEB (NAMPA) – The southern region of Namibia has one of the highest incidences of cervical cancer in the country.
Head of department for obstetrics and gynaecology at the Windhoek Central Hospital, Dr. Shonag Mackenzie said this is largely because women seek health assistance only when cervical cancer has already developed.
Speaking to Nampa during a health outreach at the Keetmanshoop State Hospital this week, Mackenzie said the situation is exacerbated by women failing to undergo regular pap smears.
“Women should have pap smears as soon as they are sexually active and annually or bi-annually after that to ensure that cancerous cells are detected early,” she advised.
Most cervical cancer is caused by the human papillomavirus (HPV).
The virus is widespread across the world and is spread through sexual contact.
In most adults, HPV shows no symptoms, but in some instances the virus causes genital warts or leads to cervical cancer in later years.
Mackenzie said every person who experiences genital warts should seek medical help immediately, even if the warts disappear.
She said a vaccine against HPV is available at private health facilities in the country and advised caregivers who can afford it to get teenage girls immunised before they become sexually active.
Developed countries such as Scotland and Australia have state-sponsored programmes where girls between the ages of 12 and 15 are inoculated.
Worldwide, campaigners have been calling for a halt in the programmes to ensure thorough investigations into future side effects, but Dr Mackenzie said the vaccine has been tested throughout its 15-year existence.
She said although vaccination is expensive, her department will soon embark on a campaign to convince government to introduce free HPV vaccination in Namibia.
“In the long run, the cost of cancer treatment far outweighs prevention,” she said.
In the meantime, later in the year, the health ministry will roll out a programme known as Visual Inspection that will detect early changes in cancer cells in women.
Mackenzie said nurses will be trained to perform screenings and treatment to ensure proper access for women throughout the country.
The Visual Inspection will include a once-off procedure where pre-cancerous cells are frozen away before it develops into cancer.