Every year, thousands of women die in Africa because of cervical cancer. More women in the region develop cervical cancer as a result of unequal access to prevention and screening services. Cervical cancer is caused by certain types of human papillomavirus (HPV) and can be detected through screening tests such as Pap smears and HPV tests. Cervical cancer can also be avoided by getting vaccinated against the HPV strains that are most likely to cause the disease or by getting regular screenings to find and treat it early.
There are many other things that make it hard to get to effective ways to prevent cervical cancer. These include limited awareness about cervical cancer risk factors and preventative measures; inadequate health infrastructure; gender inequality resulting in lack of access to healthcare; stigma associated with sexual health issues; inadequate resources for diagnosis and treatment; poverty; cultural beliefs around vaccination and illness; and a lack of political will or investment in public health initiatives.
To reduce the burden of cervical cancer in sub-Saharan Africa, there is an urgent need for increased investments in national programmes for prevention, early detection, and treatment across all countries. Governments need to make sure that their programmes help people who are most likely to get cervical cancer, like HIV-positive women, young people, people who live in rural areas, and others with limited access to health care.
Getting more people to know about the risks of cervical cancer and the ways to prevent it, like HPV vaccinations and regular screenings, is an important step toward reducing the number of people who get it. Community outreach campaigns should be used to educate people about these interventions, how they work, how they can prevent the spread of cervical cancer, and how they can be accessed.
Improving access to screening services will give women more opportunities to detect abnormal changes before they develop into full blown cancers. In addition to this expanded screening coverage will require better integration between HIV/AIDS programs and cervical cancer control programmes so that HIV-positive women have equal access to prevention interventions. To facilitate this integration, it will be necessary for governments in sub-Saharan African countries to review their current policies on HPV testing by allowing point-of-care technologies that integrate STI screening into routine care along with “see and treat” services that alleviate some of the pressure on colposcopy services.
It is also important for governments in sub-Saharan African countries to invest resources into expanding existing HPV vaccine programmes by widening age range eligibility criteria as well as lowering the recommended age for starting routine screenings among low-risk groups such as adolescents and young adults who may not yet have been exposed to HPV infection but are likely at higher risk due to age-related behaviours or activities such as unprotected sex or smoking habits during adolescence. More than 80% of HPV cancers could be stopped by vaccinating teenagers, so it's important to focus on them.
Some of the things that keep adolescent girls from getting screened for cervical cancer or vaccinated against HPV are how far away screening sites are, the stigma attached to HIV/AIDS tests, and social taboos about talking about sexual health with healthcare providers. Another issue is that healthcare workers may be less likely to recommend HPV vaccines to young women because of false beliefs about their safety or effectiveness, even though many studies have shown that they are safe and effective. Contrarily, healthcare providers' recommendations are strongly linked to HPV vaccination initiation, completion, and follow-up.
More research is needed to understand the potential outcomes associated with different types of preventive mechanisms used alongside varying ages when it comes time to begin routine screenings, so that policymakers can design targeted strategies to reduce the prevalence rates associated with this deadly disease among vulnerable populations. Improving knowledge surrounding cervical cancer screening might also involve educational interventions paired up with self-sampling approaches like Xpert HPV, which could help address barriers linked to painful invasive procedures while simultaneously helping combat negative attitudes towards screening via mass media campaigns aimed at raising overall levels of awareness within society concerning the importance of these topics from a public health perspective. Integrating HIV/AIDS screening into existing cervical cancer interventions could help reduce the stigma associated with cervical cancer testing while expanding services available for sexually active individuals who may be at higher risk for cervical cancer infections.
This article was produced using artificial intelligence tools available on the Carta Evidence platform. This article is a summary of mostly research papers (co)-authored by PhD fellows. It was edited by Jude Igumbor, and the original sources are listed below.
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