The Ministry of Health and Medical Services launched the first Cervical Cancer Policy today aimed at strengthening efforts in the fight against cervical cancer, the most common cancer here over the last 10 years.
Speaking at the launch, the Minister for Health and Medical Services, Hon. Jone Usamate said more than 161 new cases of cervical cancer are recorded every year.
Minister Usamate highlighted steps taken over the years to prevent and address the deadly illness through access to a comprehensive cervical cancer prevention and control program, which has the potential to reach all girls through the HPV vaccination and all women who are at risk with screening and treatment of pre-cancer.
“Fiji has implemented the HPV vaccinations for all Year Eight girls and cervical cancer screening using either Visual Inspection with Acetic Acid or cytology to all eligible women. Opportunistic cervical cancer screening has been ongoing for more than 20 years,” Minister Usamate said.
Immunization of Year Eight girls with HPV vaccine in a school-based programme commenced in February 2013 and has been added to the national immunization schedule.
Minister Usamate said while the results of these efforts will be evident in the near future, the high burden of cervical cancer faced now required intensified efforts to strengthen screening and treatment programs.
“Pap test screening in Fiji had reached the full capacity of existing technical infrastructure and human resources with 20,000 Pap smears per year. We need to screen more women at risk of cervix cancer using affordable screening methods with the capacity to maintain good quality control. In other words, the Ministry has recognised the need for cervix cancer screening to be run as a program rather than as an uncoordinated clinical activity.
“A pilot project was conducted with Australian Aid funding using visual inspection with acetic acid (VIA) a low resource method of cervical screening endorsed by the World Health Organisation, followed by cryotherapy as an immediate “screen and treat” for a suspected pre-cancer. The study indicated that this was a feasible component of any cancer screening program in Fiji,” Minister Usamate added.
Government also committed to the procurement of a liquid based cytology machine last year, which could double the number of test done in a year.
The Liquid Based Cytology (LBC) was introduced with the intention of increasing laboratory productivity via computer-assisted screening and decreasing reporting times.
Minister Usamate said the introduction of these methods of cervical cancer screening and the addition of more human resource underpinned the ministry’s commitment to have in place a national cervix cancer screening program that will ultimately reduce the burden of Cervical Cancer deaths.
Australian High Commission’s Counsellor for Development Cooperation (Fiji and Tuvalu) Joanne Choe said the policy aimed to have the women between the ages of 30 and 49 screened for cervical cancer every three years.
Meanwhile, Government also received a donation of six cancer screening equipment from the Fiji Health Sector Support Programme to complement works towards cervix cancer screening program.