KUCHING: Women are at a risk of dying from cervical cancer which has become the second most common cause of deaths in women not only in Sarawak but throughout the world.
According to Pink & Teal EmpowHer founding chairperson Dr Abigail Jerip, the Sarawak General Hospital’s (SGH) Obstetrics and Gynaecological (O&G) Department and Radiotherapy Unit currently receives around one to two new cervical cancer cases every week.
“These cases are usually presented very late during the inoperable stages where the kidneys have already shut down and we cannot operate.
“The only thing we can give them is palliative chemotherapy, which is quite unfortunate because cervical cancer can be preventive,” she told a press conference after leading the Pink & Teal EmpowHer delegation to pay a courtesy call on Welfare, Community Wellbeing, Women, Family and Childhood Development Minister Dato Sri Fatimah Abdullah at her office in Baitulmakmur Building here yesterday.
She pointed out that the majority of these women are from rural areas and have financial constraints to visit their health clinic for screening, which by nature means seeking medical attention while asymptomatic.
“Around 85 per cent of cervical cancer occurs in developing countries and this basically includes rural Sarawak,” she said, adding that statistics show that the number of cervical cancer cases in the country is fivefold compared to developed countries such as Singapore, Hong Kong, United States and United Kingdom.
In view of this, Dr Abigail said Pink & Teal EmpowHer aims to half the number of cervical cancer rates in the state by 2030 by providing cervical screenings, particularly to the rural community of Sarawak.
“We have to meet them where they need us in the form of a penetrative, outreach-based programme with immediate screening results and stream-lined referrals for treatment.
“Due to the poor logistics of the rural community, we understand that it is difficult for women to come for their scheduled PAP smears and so we will meet them where they are most accessible such as at their village and ‘balai raya’ and offer them free cervical screening and also breast cancer screening.”
She said the non-governmental organisation (NGO) focuses on cervical cancer as it can be eliminated through vaccination, the primary prevention, as well as intensive screening which is the secondary prevention.
“Once detected early, we can actually prevent cervical cancer and completely eliminate it.”
Dr Abigail, who is also a trainee at Universiti Malaysia Sarawak (Unimas) O&G Department, noted that since launching the programme in June this year, Pink & Teal EmpowHer has screened more than 200 women.
“Of these screenings, 20 per cent have been screened positive for pre-cancerous lesions and we have been able to treat them.
“The usual time taken, if in the government setting, will be six to eight months but we are able to cut short this time with the help of Unimas O&G Clinic to three and a half months.”
Apart from that, she said there is also a lower rate of defaulters as the NGO employs the ‘vinegar test’, a testing method also termed as visual inspection with acetic acid (VIA) which is “more specific and gives instant results for pre-cancerous lesion on the cervix”.
“With the cheap and easily available acetic acid screening test, we get consistent and instant results, supported by a large body of scientific evidence.
“This paves the way for a ‘single-visit approach’ where we can diagnose them in the same setting and offer them speedy diagnosis and treatment.”
Dr Abigail remarked that through the programme, Pink & Teal EmpowHer has been able to treat rural women who would “never have a single PAP smear in their lives”.
“Left undiagnosed and untreated, these villagers would have their lesions progress into cancer in five to ten years.
“We have saved these women from cervical cancer, empowering them and enhancing their quality of life personally and as part of a family and community.”