The Vanuatu Family Health Association has called on church leaders, chiefs, husbands and fathers to get behind the fight against cervical cancer, which is a major health issue for women and girls in Vanuatu.
Jerol Sakita, a nurse who heads the Vanuatu Family Health Association’s cervical cancer screening program, says she wants everyone to know about the threat of cervical cancer, rather than it being a disease that only the health authorities talk about.
The association wants all sexually active women to take a pap smear test to check for the cancer, but Mrs Sakita says while many women have received cervical cancer awareness information, they are not taking the disease seriously enough to get the check done.
She wants husbands, fathers and boyfriends to get behind the issue and to encourage the women in their families to get checked for the disease.
She says some of the signs of cervical cancer are blood spots or light bleeding between or following women’s periods; menstrual bleeding that is longer and heavier than usual; bleeding after sexual intercourse, douching, a pelvic examination or menopause; increased vaginal discharge; pain during sexual intercourse; and unexplained, persistent pelvic and or back pain.
Around one in every hundred women in Vanuatu gets cervical cancer, a number Mrs Sakita says is too high. She says in Australia, the figure is ten times lower, with one out of every 1000 women developing cervical cancer there.
The human papilloma virus (HPV) is what causes cervical cancer in women, and like HIV and gonorrhea, HPV is sexually transmitted. While men are not usually as badly impacted by the HPV virus, they are the main carriers and can spread the virus by having more than one sexual partner.
Mrs Sakita says it can take ten to 15 years for a woman to develop cervical cancer.
She says woman who have had sex during their teenage years from 13 to 19 years of age, can contract cervical cancer but not know that they have it.
“Men can spread the cervical cancer virus and they must help reduce this disease by being faithful and having only one sex partner,” Mrs Sakita says.
She says not only should church leaders and others be encouraging women and girls to get cervical cancer check-ups, they should also teach young people that having sex at an early age is not good.
She says the right age to start having sex is from 24 years upwards when a young woman’s body has fully grown.
Mrs Sakita calls on all women in the islands and villages to get a pap smear test in health facilities close to them.
She says women can get tested in health facilities such as the Norsup Hospital in Malekula; the Northern Provincial Hospital in Santo; the Lolowai Hospital in Ambae; the Vanuatu Family Health Clinic and Vila Central Hospital in Port Vila; and in other clinics across the country.
There are little to no treatment options for women with advanced cervical cancer in Vanuatu and the disease kills 15 women here every year.
Australian medical researchers have developed a vaccine called Gardasil 9 that protects against the HPV viruses that cause the cancer.
In Australia, the HPV vaccines are available to young people through a national school-based program and more than 270 million doses of HPV vaccines have been administered worldwide since 2017.
Vanuatu does not have the vaccines.