The WHO ranks cervical cancer as the fourth-commonest cancer among women with 604, 000 new cases and 342, 000 deaths in 2020.
About 90 per cent of these occurred in low- and middle-income countries.
For developing countries such as Kenya, where cancer is the third-leading cause of death, these statistics highlight the burden cervical cancer and other cancers exert on its public health systems and the economy.
Cervical cancer vaccination, screening, treatment and palliative care are among the existing equitable public health strategies for its prevention and management.
But informational gaps, inadequate human resources and unaffordable treatment have led to low Human Papilloma Virus (HPV) vaccine uptake and late diagnosis, resulting in needless morbidities and mortalities.
While the use of the NHIF has reduced the financial burden of cancer treatment, only one in four Kenyans have an insurance cover of any kind, the “KDHIS 2022” report shows.
The use of a condom does not only prevent HIV/STIs and pregnancies; it also prevents the transmission of HPV, which causes 99 per cent of cervical cancers.
Condom promotion is, therefore, a cost-effective health strategy. Sadly, Kenya has a shortage of condoms, among other contraceptive commodities, at the point of service delivery despite officials indicating that they have been stocked at Kemsa.
Anybody with a cervix can get cervical cancer. Yet the disease has been falsely associated with promiscuity and witchcraft, increasing stigma and shame among patients. There is also been strong opposition against vaccination based on myths.
Timely cervical cancer information dissemination through community agencies, schools, digital platforms and health facilities to both parents and caregivers, women, men and young persons is the ultimate solution to promoting health-seeking behaviour, increased cervical cancer immunisation and addressing myths, misconceptions, stigma and related morbidity and mortality.
The need for male engagement and a gender-neutral stance is key in building social support for patients on cancer medication and garnering support for condom use among sexual partners to reduce risk.
Healthcare provider-level interventions for awareness are one of the missed opportunities in the general health system.
Healthcare providers should use all point-of-service provisions, including antenatal and postnatal visits, contraceptive, gynaecological visits and HIV care, to provide recommendations for awareness creation, screening, vaccination and treatment.
Governments should borrow lessons from other developed countries and include HPV vaccination as one of the childhood immunization through primary school programs as a long-term cervical cancer preventive intervention.
A multi-disciplinary and multi-sectoral approach will go a long way towards the realisation of the WHO 2034 mandate of cervical cancer elimination.