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EDITORIAL-Cervical cancer emerges as a critical health concern

Cervical cancer has emerged as the most common cancer in women and stands as one of the leading causes of death among Bhutanese women. Between 2014 and 2018, the country reported over 300 cases of cervical cancer, and the total recorded cases have now reached a staggering 18,313 by 2022. These statistics are deeply concerning, and it is time for our nation to come together to tackle this critical health issue.

Recent developments have shown promising strides in the fight against cervical cancer. The introduction of HPV DNA screening for women above 30 years has significantly improved detection efficiency, allowing for early identification and treatment. The Ministry of Health (MoH) is providing treatment protocols for those who test positive during HPV screening, while those who test negative are encouraged to return for screening after five years. This proactive approach to screening and treatment is commendable and could potentially save countless lives.

However, while cervical cancer is treatable when detected early, the fact that about 30% of cases are diagnosed at advanced stages is deeply concerning. Late detection significantly reduces the chances of successful treatment and puts immense strain on both patients and healthcare facilities. To address this, we must prioritize public awareness and advocacy programs that educate the population about the dangers, symptoms, and available services related to cervical cancer. Knowledge is the first line of defense in the fight against this deadly disease.

In this regard, the โ€œWalk the Talkโ€ events have played a crucial role in raising awareness about public health concerns in the country. The recent focus on cervical cancer prevention and awareness during these events is commendable. Such initiatives mobilize communities and inspire collective action, which is vital in addressing public health challenges effectively.

Bhutan has indeed taken significant steps to combat cervical cancer, with the introduction of the Cervical Cancer Screening Program in 2006 and the vaccination of young girls against HPV since 2010. By 2017, an impressive 97% of all adolescent girls had been vaccinated, showcasing the nationโ€™s commitment to safeguarding the health of its young population. Moreover, in 2020, Bhutan took a historic step by becoming the first country in the South-East Asia Region to vaccinate young boys against HPV, further strengthening the fight against this preventable cancer.

Furthermore, Bhutanโ€™s commitment to โ€œEliminate Cervical Cancer by 2030โ€ at the World Health Organizationโ€™s Executive Board meeting in 2019 demonstrated the nationโ€™s determination to eradicate this disease. The comprehensive national strategic plan launched subsequently is a testament to Bhutanโ€™s dedication to addressing cervical cancer comprehensively.

However, we cannot rest on our laurels. Cervical cancer continues to be a pressing concern, demanding immediate action through prevention, awareness, and comprehensive health initiatives. It is essential to recognize that cervical cancer does not discriminate based on gender, and prevention is a responsibility shared by both men and women. Increased awareness campaigns targeting both genders will lead to greater understanding and cooperation in preventing this disease.

As we move forward, it is crucial for the authorities, healthcare professionals, educators, civil society, and individuals to join hands in the fight against cervical cancer. Comprehensive prevention and screening programs, backed by robust public awareness campaigns, can make a significant impact. Furthermore, a collaborative effort is essential to ensure accessibility and affordability of screening and treatment facilities, especially in remote areas.

Our commitment to eliminating cervical cancer by 2030 must remain unwavering. It is not only a health imperative but a moral duty to protect the well-being of our citizens, especially our women. Together, we can create a future where cervical cancer is no longer a threat to our nation. Let us stand united in this fight and pave the way for a healthier, happier Bhutan.

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