Botswana Battles One of the Highest Rates of Cervical Cancer


No one talks about cancer in Africa...does it not exist or has the data not been collected?

Years ago one of the biggest killers in Botswana was HIV/AIDS, but in 1991 the government made anti-retroviral medications available to over 90 percent of its population in need of these treatments. Today, about "one-third of Botswana’s adult population is estimated to carry the HIV virus and HIV-positive women are, in turn, five times more likely to contract the human papillomavirus (HPV). HPV, which triggers cell alterations of the cervix, can lead to cervical cancer, as well as cancers of the vulva, vagina and anus." So while people are no longer as impacted by traditional HIV/AIDS related complications scientists are noting a hug spike in cervical cancer, with 25 percent of female in Botswana impacted versus 2 percent of women in the United Kingdom. While cervical cancer is the eight most common type of cancer in women in the US, the mortality rates are much lower than other cancers, but "it’s the leading cancer killer of women in the developing world. About 300,000 women die of cervical cancer every year, most of them in the poorest areas of Africa, South America and Asia."

There are many reason stated for this rate, including:  limited access to screening techniques such as PAP smears, knowledgeable technicians to read these tests, lack of access to the vaccine against HPV and in this article, a discussion of a climate where individuals commonly have more than one sexual partner concurrently.

Without a structure in place for consistent screenings, many are using cell phone cameras to document and diagnosis cervical cancer in women living in remote areas.“The future with cell phones is huge, especially in rural areas,” said Dr. Masire, head of the Women’s Health Initiative Botswana that partners with University of Pennsylvania for clinical care, research and funding, who helped introduce a telemedicine pilot program to help battle an epidemic of cervical cancer that’s sweeping sub-Saharan Africa.

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