Lack of awareness and access to health services prevent women from testing for HPV

Call it a lack of understanding or the lack of access to health services, women are reluctant to get themselves tested for Human Papillomavirus or HPV. To ensure that women are tested and treated before it’s too late, the health ministry is taking HPV screening to the villages across the country as part of the National Health Flagship Programme. In Thimphu, more than 330 women tested positive for the virus during the screening campaign. They are now provided with colposcopy services to rule out the risks of cervical cancer. HPV is a virus that causes cancer in the cervix of women.

In Thimphu, the District Health Officials with technical support from the National Referral Hospital screened more than 2,400 women in eight gewogs for HPV. The screening is conducted for women between the age group of 30 and 65 who are more vulnerable to developing cervical cancer.

Human papillomavirus causes cancer in the female reproductive organ and is transmitted due to sexual intercourse. According to health officials, the virus does not show symptoms or cause any health complications unless it is too late.

Once a woman tests positive for HPV, a medical screening called colposcopy is provided to determine if she needs to undergo treatment for cervical cancer.

The district health officer said that although the virus can cause dangerous cancers, women usually do not come forward for HPV screening.

“If we look at the data, out of 332 women who tested positive, only around 280 have turned up for the second screening, which is a colposcopy. More than 50 women haven’t turned up. They need to stop being embarrassed over it and come get the screening by any means,” said Kencho Wangdi, Thimphu District Health Officer.

Some of the women who turned up for the colposcopy service said women fail to take such services as many seem unaware of the health condition and the associated risks.

“Until now, we were embarrassed to do this HPV check-up. But today, as told by doctors and officials from the district, we understood that the virus is dangerous. Women should stop being ashamed and need to check themselves for the virus before it complicates our lives,” said Ugyen Dem, a resident of Genekha Gewog.

“The screening campaign in villages helps us. It is difficult if we go to the hospital in town. Firstly, we don’t have vehicles to travel, and secondly, due to a lot of people in the hospital, we cannot get the appointment easily,” said Gyem Lham, another resident of the gewog.

The colposcopy screening that started on March 1 ended today at Genekha. Unlike other cancers, cervical cancer is preventable and treatable if detected early.

According to the health ministry, the country detects more than 50 cases of cervical cancer every year. The government spends nearly Nu 200,000 for each patient undergoing cervical cancer treatment.

Cervical cancer ranks as the leading cause of cancer among women in Bhutan with 82 deaths recorded between 2014 to 2018. And seventy per cent of the total female population in the reproductive age group is at risk of developing cervical cancer in Bhutan.

Namgay Dema

Edited by Phub Gyem

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