Cervical cancer is a significant global health issue, with over 600,000 new cases and an estimated 342,000 deaths in 2020, predominantly in low and middle-income countries. In Bangladesh, cervical cancer has become the leading cause of cancer-related deaths among women. To combat this public health crisis, a group of health workers, supported by the charity Friendship, is working to reach women in some of the most isolated areas of the country.
These remote communities, situated on shifting sand islands called chars in the Brahmaputra and Jamuna rivers, face significant challenges when it comes to accessing preventive measures and treatment for cervical cancer. Friendship, an organization serving Bangladesh's hardest-to-reach communities, has been screening and preventing cervical cancer since 2002. In 2021, they launched the Prevention and Screening Innovation Project Towards Elimination of Cervical Cancer (Prescrip-tec), an EU-funded initiative focusing on these remote communities.
Despite the difficulties, health workers have made progress in raising awareness about cervical cancer and providing access to testing and treatment. They employ community mobilization as a key strategy, conducting health-awareness sessions in remote areas to educate women about cervical cancer and its prevention. Health workers use MHealth, a mobile-based app, to gather and store patient data and connect with doctors when necessary.
During these sessions, health workers offer basic medical services, referrals, ante and postnatal care, nutrition, family planning, and hygiene education. They also distribute self-testing kits and provide immediate testing for interested individuals. Positive HPV test results lead to further screening. Since the Prescrip-tec project began in 2021, 121 women have tested positive for HPV, with 140 receiving cryotherapy and thermal ablation treatment, and 29 referred for advanced treatment.
While progress has been made in fighting cervical cancer in these remote communities, social stigma still prevents some women from seeking treatment. Nonetheless, health workers remain committed to raising awareness and providing access to preventive measures and treatment for as many women as possible.
Addressing cervical cancer is a complex public health challenge that requires a multifaceted approach. The work of health workers in Bangladesh demonstrates how community mobilization, targeted awareness campaigns, and access to preventive measures and treatment can make a significant difference in the fight against this deadly disease. As the global health community addresses this public health crisis, learning from these experiences is vital, and supporting their efforts is crucial to improving the lives of women affected by cervical cancer.
Sustainable development is of paramount importance as it seeks to balance economic, social, and environmental considerations to meet present needs without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs. It is a critical approach for achieving the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), as it ensures that economic growth is inclusive, environmentally sustainable, and socially responsible. Sustainable development envisions a world that is more just, equitable, and resilient, where everyone can thrive and live in harmony with the environment.
More information: https://friendship.ngo