Uniting against Cervical Cancer

With an incidence rate of 20.5 cases per 100,000 women, the Cervical Cancer disease has gripped the attention of the Bhutanese community and authorities alike.

Cervical Cancer, while treatable when detected early, has remained a leading cause of death among Bhutanese women. Between 2014 and 2018, over 300 cases of cervical cancer were reported, with 82 fatalities. Despite Bhutan’s commitment to prioritize healthcare, approximately 30 percent of cases are diagnosed at an advanced stage, significantly reducing the chances of successful treatment.

To counter this alarming trend, the Bhutan Youth Development Fund, in collaboration with the Ministry of Health and the World Health Organization, has initiated the annual “Walk the Talk” events in 2022. This year’s focus shines a spotlight on Cervical Cancer, uniting young volunteers from all 20 Dzongkhags to engage their communities in conversations about prevention, early detection, and education. These enthusiastic advocates are trained to promote the importance of health screenings and urge fellow Bhutanese citizens to get screened, vaccinated, and informed. Bhutan’s effort in eradicating Cervical Cancer is shown by a multi-approach. In 2006, the nation initiated the Cervical Cancer Screening Program, laying the foundation for early detection. Subsequently, Bhutan embarked on a vaccination drive, administering the HPV vaccine to young girls since 2010. By 2017, an impressive 97 percent of adolescent girls had been vaccinated against HPV. Notably, Bhutan set a precedent in 2020 by becoming the first Southeast Asian country to vaccinate young boys against HPV.

In January 2019, Bhutan committed to “Eliminate Cervical Cancer by 2030” during the 144th session of the World Health Organization (WHO)’s Executive Board meeting in Geneva. This declaration was followed by the launch of a comprehensive national strategic plan in the same year, making Bhutan a regional pioneer in the fight against cervical cancer.

The Ministry of Health’s Cancer Flagship Project, launched in 2020, strengthened the prevention and control efforts. A nationwide screening initiative prioritized the sensitive HPV-DNA test, achieving coverage of over 90% of eligible women.

While numerous risk factors, such as early age at marriage and childbirth, multiple pregnancies, multiple sexual partners, HPV and other STIs, immunosuppression, and smoking, contribute to the persistence of cervical cancer, it is essential to highlight that the disease is most commonly caused by HPV. The WHO underscores the link between HPV and cervical cancer, underlining the importance of awareness and early intervention.

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