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Two thousand Women die from cervical cancer annually; Cancer expert

BY: By Charles Andoh
Dr Effah (right), with Ms Tekpor and Mrs Wormenor
Dr Effah (right), with Ms Tekpor and Mrs Wormenor

More than 3000 women are diagnosed with cervical cancer in Ghana, out of which over 2000 women die annually, a Gynaecological cancer expert, Dr Kofi Effah, has said.

Making reference to the World Health Organisation (WHO) Human Papillomavirus (HPV) report, Dr Kofi Effah, who is also the head of the Cervical Cancer Prevention and Training Centre (CCPTC), Catholic Hospital in Battor, Volta Region, said the situation was worrying and needed to be addressed as soon as possible.

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The WHO also predicts that by the year 2025, 5,000 new cases of cervical cancer and 3,361 cervical cancer deaths will occur annually in Ghana.

“This is regrettable because the disease is treatable when it is picked up early at the precancerous stage,” he explained.

Dr Effah was speaking to The Mirror when it visited the centre to assess what the CCPTC had been doing over the years to help deal with cervical cancer.

He was supported by the nurse in charge, Ms Ethel Tekpor, and Mrs Comfort Mawusi Wormenor who is a general nurse.

Cervical cancer is a type of cancer that occurs in the cells of the cervix — the lower part of the uterus that connects to the vagina.

It is caused by the HPV.

There may be no symptoms.

In a few cases, there may be irregular bleeding or pain.

Treatments include surgery, radiation and chemotherapy which usually come with huge costs.

It is the commonest cancer after breast cancer among women.

What needs to be done
In view of that, Dr Effah called for the establishment of cervical cancer screening and treatment centres in all the 275 districts across the country.

Even though he could not give the number of districts with cervical cancer centres, he said only a few existed, noting that there was the need to speed up efforts to ensure that no one was left out.

That, he said, should tie in with the training of more cadre health staff including nurses and midwives who could help with the screening and treatment of precancerous lesions — abnormal cells that could turn into cancerous cells in the cervix.

While advocating for the inclusion of cervical cancer screening and treatment on the National Health Insurance Scheme (NHIS), Dr Effah said building of more centres, training and retooling health professionals were the ways the country could achieve the vision of cervical cancer prevention.

“I think that every district in the country should have at least one centre that screens and treats cervical precancerous lesions. That is the only way we can achieve our vision of preventing cervical cancer in the country so that we wouldn’t be in trouble when the programme is introduced on the NHIS,” he said.

Collaboration
The Gynaecological cancer expert also called on politicians, celebrities and philanthropists to collaborate with the government to train more health professionals to help with the screening and treatment of precancerous lesions to prevent developing cervical cancers.

He said that was more beneficial than the one-off screening programmes usually organised by such groups.

“If we are not careful, we are going to get to a point where many women are screened across the country, but would not have the human capacity to manage those with positives. So as we work to get the NHIS to cover the screening and treatment of cervical precancerous lesions, we should use this opportunity to train many health professionals to assist such women in the district since that is sustainable.”

“Some analysis done over the years shows that the amount of money involved in screening about 100 women one-time can actually train one health worker in our training programmes who in turn assists many women. So instead, they should channel their resources to assist the districts to train more health professionals,” he added.

Ways to prevent cervical cancer
Dr Effah stated that the major way to prevent cervical cancer was lifestyle or sexual modification to prevent acquiring the HPV.

He also called for the vaccination of boys and girls between nine and 14 years to prevent HPV infection.

“If the boys are protected and do not transmit to girls it reduces the rate of the spread of the virus. The HPV can stay in the womb or cervix of the woman for many years before it shows signs of the infection. That is why it is important for constant screening during the precancerous stage.

“Some countries have rolled out national vaccination programmes, and it is about time Ghana learnt from them. The high risk HPV can cause vulva cancer, vaginal cancer, throat and anal cancers, and in males can cause anal, penile and throat cancers. Therefore, vaccination is key here,” he said.

Cervical Cancer Prevention and Training Centre
Established in 2017, the centre trains cadre health staff to assist with cervical precancerous lesions screening and treatment.

So far, it has trained 258 health across the country.

In addition to that the centre screens about 25 women on a weekly basis and about 2000 each year who who come from different parts of the country to Battor.

According to Dr Effah, one of the reasons for establishing the centre was to provide practical skills to healthcare professionals to assist as well as be able to screen women suffering from cervical cancer.

The centre also teaches women how to take their sample with sampling devices in the comfort of their home and submit to any health centre to test for the HPV presence — those who test positive for the virus are then followed up for screening and treatment.

“We realised our training institutions lack the practical skills in treating precancerous lesions. That was why this centre was established to train general nurses, midwives, community health nurses to be able to screen and treat the precancerous lesions," he stated.

Intensive screening
As part of the vision of the centre, Ms Tekpor said, it organised regular screening and treatment for women and HPV vaccination for both boys and girls in different parts of the country to eliminate the disease, adding that a recent one was done at Nzulezu in the Western Region where some women who tested positive for the disease were currently undergoing treatment.

She expressed appreciation to its partners including mPharma, a pharmaceutical company and the WHO for the assistance, but called for more support for the centre to increase its activities.

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