RCSE members learned this week that cervical cancer is the #1 cause of death among Fijian women. The disease, which kills more than 100 women every year in Fiji, is often called a ‘silent killer’ because signs and symptoms may not present themselves until the disease has progressed beyond possible treatment. Yet, if caught early, cervical cancer is one of the most easily treated cancers.
American Peace Corps Volunteer Tricia Buzzard spoke to RCSE on Monday August 18th about the Ministry of Health’s Cervical Cancer Prevention Program and the new, innovative screening techniques that are being used to improve detection and reduce cervical cancer deaths in Fiji.
The majority of cervical cancer cases are caused by exposure to the HPV virus, a sexually transmitted disease, and take 10-15 years to develop into full-blown cancer.
In many countries, regular pap smear screenings every 2-3 years are an effective measure of detection, but although pap smears have been available in Fiji since 1993, they have not reduced the incidence of cervical cancer. One reason for this is that pap smear results can take longer than 6 weeks to get back to testing centres, meaning that people who come from rural areas for exams may not receive them.
To address this issue, the Cervical Cancer Prevention Program is currently rolling out a new ‘single visit approach’ to cervical cancer screening called Visual Inspection with Acetic Acid or VIA. With VIA, trained medical staff can test, diagnose and treat women in the same day. It is what it sounds like- a woman’s cervix is swabbed with acetic acid and if pre-cancerous lesions are present, a visual inspection will show white spots. In early stages, these lesions can be easily removed with cryotherapy. More advanced cases can be treated at CWM or Lautoka Hospital.
To date, 105 nurses around the country have been trained in VIA and more than 1,562 women have been screened for cervical cancer, of whom 85 were successfully treated.
RCSE is very grateful to Tricia for educating us on this topic, and for sharing her work on this innovative health care initiative. We look forward to supporting the Ministry of Health in improving services, especially preventative services, in Fiji’s rural areas.