Zara Nwachinemere, Abakaliki
Cervical cancer is a malignant tumour that develops in a woman’s cervix (the entrance to the uterus from the vagina).
Almost 99% cases of cervical cancer are linked to infection with high-risk human papillomaviruses (HPV), an extremely common virus transmitted through sexual contact.
Statistics has it that the disease is the third most common malignancy in women worldwide, and it remains a leading cause of cancer-related death for women in developing countries.
In 2018, according to World Health Organization, (WHO) an estimated 570 000 women were diagnosed with cervical cancer worldwide and about 311 000 women died from the disease.
The unfortunate thing about cervical cancer is that many women with the disease don’t realize they have it on time, because it usually doesn’t cause symptoms until at the late stages. When symptoms do appear, they are easily mistaken for common conditions like menstrual periods and urinary tract infections (UTIs).
Other cancer-related diseases are Hepatitis B and C. These are viral infections that attack the liver and can cause both acute and chronic disease.
Hepatitis B, although most commonly acquired early in life, adults can also contract it. Hepatitis B is largely transmitted through bodily fluids. It can be passed at birth from a hepatitis B-infected mother or through exposure in early childhood to body fluids, blood or contaminated medical instruments.
Hepatitis B can also be transmitted through intranasal and injection drug use as well as infected tools used during tattooing and body piercing.
WHO estimates that in 2015, 257 million people were living with chronic hepatitis B infection (defined as hepatitis B surface antigen positive).
In 2015, hepatitis B resulted in an estimated 887 000 deaths, mostly from cirrhosis and hepatocellular carcinoma (i.e. primary liver cancer).
Hepatitis B can be prevented by vaccines that are safe, available and effective.
Hepatitis C, is a liver disease caused by the hepatitis C virus (HCV). The virus can cause both acute and chronic hepatitis, ranging in severity from a mild illness lasting a few weeks to a serious, lifelong illness. And it is a major cause of liver cancer.
The hepatitis C virus is a blood borne virus. The most common modes of infection are through exposure to small quantities of blood. This may happen through injection drug use, unsafe injection practices, unsafe health care, transfusion of unscreened blood and blood products, and sexual practices that lead to exposure to blood.
According to WHO, globally, an estimated 71 million people have chronic hepatitis C virus infection.
A significant number of those who are chronically infected will develop cirrhosis or liver cancer.
WHO also estimated that in 2016, approximately 399 000 people died from hepatitis C, mostly from cirrhosis and hepatocellular carcinoma.
WHO recently lamented that access to diagnosis and treatment of Hepatitis C is low.
In other to tackle access to diagnosis and treatment for cervical cancer, hepatitis B and C, Ebonyi state government in May 2021, set up a Screening Committee headed by Pastor Eze Nwachukwu Eze.
The committee was set up after the demise of Engr. Mrs Uchechi Okah, the Honourable Commissioner for Housing in Ebonyi state.
Engr. Okah died on 14th of May 2021 and from grapevine, she died of cancer related disease, which some said may have informed the setting up of the Screening Committee by the state government.
The above assertion was given credence when the Chief Medical Director, Government House Clinic, and the state acting commissioner for Health, Dr.Richard Nnabu, while stressing the importance of the people coming out for the screening, noted that, “In the recent time the state lost a very dear one, due to a related case under screening and the state government decided to embark on free medical checkup and treatment for preventive measure to avoid further occurrence.”
Chairman of the committee in an interview said the exercise was funded by the state government to ensure the protection of health of its citizens.
Nwachukwu said the exercise started with government officials and civil servants and now to the general public.
He assured that Ebonyi State government has made adequate provisions for both screening for the diseases and the required treatments.
The screening is going to be in phases. For the first phase, 10, 000 people in Ebonyi will be screened for free, and anyone who tested positive will also be treated for free.
“Over 30,000 doses of the vaccines have been provided for the vaccination of those who may be negative to ensure Ebonyians are protected, because a healthy state can be a productive state, vice versa.”
“The number to be screened now for both levels is 10,000 for a start, but it is a continuous exercise. 4,000 for Hapititis B, 4,000 for Hapititis C and 2,000 for cervical cancer screening.”
“Governor Umahi has made it clear that he is going to provide more money as many Ebonyians availed themselves to be screened,” he stated.
The acting commissioner for Health, and Chief Medical Director of Government House Clinic, Abakalki, Dr Richard Nnabu, urged the people to go for the screening to ascertain their health status on time.
“By this way, you have saved yourself of the cost of not just treating the sickness but the time you would have wasted to access health care. When you keep the person at the primordial stage, you address that issue at that point in time with manpower so that the person can discharge his job as expected of him.
“What we are looking at now is to screen Hepatitis B and C, as well as cervical cancer. Hepatitis B and C can have the tendencies of what we call cirrhosis, it will eventually lead to liver cancer.”
“The governor has decided to take the bull by the horns. He has decided to go extra miles to mobilize manpower, human resources that should anyone having these cases, he can be screened out and treated immediately,” he added.
Giving the statistics of those screened so far and their status, Dr Nnabu, said 5162 persons having been tested as at late June 2021.
He disclosed that for hapatitis B, 1651 were screened and 90 were positive while 1561 were negative and for hapatitis C, 1561, were screened and 36 were positive while 1615 were negative.
“Those that are negative have been vaccinated and vaccination is still on going. While those who are negative, following the report made by the committee, exco has approved that further test and treatment be commenced on them.
For the screening at the local government level, he said 920 persons were screened for hapatitis B out of which 54 were positive while 856 were negative and for hapatitis C, 920 people were tested and 10 were positive, while 910 were negative, adding that vaccination has commenced which is running simultaneously across the 13 local government areas of the state.
On Cervical cancer he said; “Screening has been going on at the national obstetrics fistula center. For the 625 women screened for cervical cancer, the commissioner noted that 511 persons have need for further test I.e pap smear, 96 of them will need cervical biopsy while 2 will need cryo therapy. 5 has been detected to have outright cervical cancer.
“We will take care of these ones even as the screening is on going”.
With the steps taken so far by Ebonyi State government, the fight against cervical cancer, hepatitis B and C will have sure success.
If other state governors can emulate what Ebonyi government is doing in this fight, cervical cancer, Hepatitis B and C will be reduced to the barest minimum if not completely eliminated.
With a comprehensive approach to prevent, screen and treat, cervical cancer, hepatitis B and C can be eliminated as a public health problem within a generation.
As with most types of cancer, early detection is key to a good outcome.
WHO stated that If cervical cancer for instance is detected and treated early, while it is still located only in the cervix and uterus, the survival rate is around 92 percent. This is one of the reasons the state government has commenced the screening so as to detect it early and treat it to avoid losing more Ebonyi women to this deadly disease.
While the state government is doing its best to tackle these diseases, individuals are advised to maintain a healthy and good life style.
No one in the state should let this opportunity pass by without getting tested.
From the screening to the treatment is free, all that is required is for people to go for the screen to ascertain their health status. A stich in time saves nine.