Wednesday February 01, 2023

64 per cent women with cervical cancer don’t survive in Pakistan: experts

September 24, 2022

Cervical cancer has become the third most common cancer in Pakistan after head and neck and breast cancers, and around 64 per cent Pakistani women who have this cancer die as they only report this disease when it becomes almost incurable in the third or the fourth stage of cancer, national and international health experts and scientists said on Friday.

As talking about reproductive health of women is considered as a taboo in Pakistani society, many women don’t let their families know about their health condition, especially in case of cervical cancer and only go to see the healthcare providers when their disease has progressed to the last stage, experts said and called for creating awareness regarding signs and symptoms of the disease so that precious lives could be saved.

“A single shot of human papillomavirus vaccine to girls in the age group of 9-15 years can save thousands of lives in countries like Pakistan,” said Prof Dr Thomas Iftner, a leading virologist from Germany, while delivering a talk on “HPV Testing as Secondary Prophylaxis against Cervical Cancer” at the International Center for Chemical and Biological Sciences (ICCBS), University of Karachi, on the second day of an international symposium.

Experts and scientists from 20 countries, including Germany, the United States, the UK, Australia and Turkey as well as several other European, Middle and Far Eastern countries, African nations, are attending the three-day satellite symposium of the International Papillomavirus Society (IPVS) titled ‘Human Papillomavirus and Cervical Cancer’ at ICCBB, where research papers are being presented on the incidence and prevalence of HPV infection and cervical cancer in Pakistan and the rest of the world.

Prof Thomas Iftner urged the authorities to immediately launch a cancer registry on national level to ascertain the actual incidence and prevalence of different types of cancers in the country and advised the government to launch a vaccination campaign to prevent millions of adolescent girls from the preventable cancer.

Responding about the timeline of the launch of HPV vaccination in Sindh, Project Director Expanded Program on Immunization (EPI) Dr Irshad Memon said they had plans to start vaccination, but no timeline could be given as this campaign required hundreds of millions of dollars to procure the vaccine, and at this time of the devastation caused by the monsoon floods, this could not be possible.

The health department had formed a taskforce on HPV vaccination in the province with health minister Dr Azra Pechuho as its chairperson, he said and added that they were busy in talks with international donor agencies for the procurement of the HPV vaccine to vaccinate around three million girls of 9-14 years of age.

Another expert from the Karachi Institute of Radiotherapy and Nuclear Medicine (KIRAN), Dr. Muhammad Hanif, claimed that cervical cancer was among the third most common cancer following head and neck and breast cancers, but due to its being a taboo, most of the patients don’t report it and only come to hospitals when it becomes unbearable for them.

“The data of KIRAN shows that it is the 3rd most common cancer in Pakistan and the mortality is around 60 to 70 per cent as most of the women don’t tell their husbands and other family members of this disease in the early stages. They come to hospitals when it becomes too late,” he added.

Director ICCBS Prof Dr. Iqbal Choudhary deplored that sex and reproductive health education was still being considered as a taboo in Pakistan, due to which women and young girls were dying from preventable diseases. He added that they were trying to break these taboos and come up with knowledge and education to improve health care and address other social and scientific issues in the country.

Dr Choudhary called for further research on HPV, which is the most common viral infection of the reproductive tract. He also briefed the participants about various health- related research projects being conducted at the Dr Panjwani Centre.

“It is important to conduct research to understand the causes of HPV prevalence in the Pakistani population and to stop its unabated spread. The international centre has taken a lead in the national cause,” he said and appreciated the efforts of Dr Azra Pechuho for supporting healthcare research at the ICCBS.

Vice Chancellor University of Karachi Dr Khalid Iraqi, Prof Dr Saeed Khan from the Dow University of Health Sciences, Dr Fauzia Assad, country director Jhpiego, former national EPI chief Dr. Arshad Chandio as well as several other national and international experts also spoke.