COLOMBO, Sri Lanka (13 Aug 2019): Cervical cancer is the third most common type of cancer among women in Sri Lanka. It is a significant reproductive health problem, and estimates for 2018 alone shows that around 1,136 new cases of cervical cancer are diagnosed annually in Sri Lanka. Human papillomavirus (HPV) is the primary cause of cervical cancer, which is a highly contagious infection that is transmitted through sexual activity.
This is one of the conditions screened for at the Well Woman Clinics in Sri Lanka, which includes screening for hypertension, nutritional status, diabetes, breast abnormalities, cervical abnormalities, family planning status, menstrual disorders, reproductive tract infections and perimenopausal or menopausal problems.
Currently in Sri Lanka and around the world, more attention and resources are diverted towards curative care as opposed to secondary prevention. Such conditions compromise a woman’s quality of life including their sexual and reproductive health. Hence, improving services for women’s health issues to reduce mortality and morbidity is a crucial step forward.
Identifying the need for collaborative action, the Ministry of Health in Sri Lanka with support from the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) launched the National Strategic Plan (2019-2023) for the Well Woman Programme in Sri Lanka. The strategy aims to ensure by 2023 that every woman in the targeted age cohorts, especially those farthest behind, have benefited from quality health services through the Well Woman Clinics around the country.
The Strategic Plan comes at a critical moment in the battle against cervical cancer. Technological advances reveal that primary prevention of cervical cancer is possible through HPV vaccinations and secondary prevention is possible through HPV testing.
At the launch, Dr. Anil Jaasinghe, Director General of Health Services at the Ministry of Health, Nutrition and Indigenous Medicine, stated, “An objective of the strategic plan is to shift from cervical cytology tests to HPV testing as a more effective method for cervical cancer screening. In 2017, we introduced HPV vaccinations for girls in Grade 6. We are confident that HPV vaccination and screening for HPV will pave the way for the elimination of cervical cancer in the country”.
Speaking on the importance of universal health coverage, Ms. Ritsu Nacken, UNFPA Representative highlighted, “We need to acknowledge that even one woman dying from a preventable cause is too many. This is an opportune moment to establish a new strategic plan for the Well Woman Programme so we can make necessary changes in the structure and services to further improve the health status of women. This will ensure all women in Sri Lanka enjoy quality healthcare to fulfill their potential”.
In 2018, UNFPA supported a pilot project in rolling out the HPV DNA testing in Kalutara. As the UN’s sexual and reproductive health agency, UNFPA has been supporting the Well Woman Programme since its inception in 1996 to improve the health and wellbeing of women in Sri Lanka.