On January 23, U.S. Ambassador Johnson joined the Ministry of Health and Social Services at Oshakati and Onandjokwe Hospitals to learn more about why cervical cancer screening is so important for all women who are sexually active, and particularly women who are HIV positive.
“Cervical cancer is a health risk that is preventable, unlike other cancers, it is easy to detect early and prevent progression. On behalf of the U.S. Embassy, I am very pleased that we have supported the Ministry of Health and Social Services to save the lives of Namibian women through implementing advanced cervical cancer screening practices and enhanced treatment options throughout the course of the past year.
Cervical cancer screening and treatment has changed the lives not only of the women whose lives it has saved, but it also has impacted the lives of these women’s children, family, and friends.
As the Ministry officials have said, an HIV positive woman is 5-6 times more likely to develop and die of cervical cancer than an HIV negative woman. This is why it is so important for especially HIV positive women to be screened early.
Already, approximately 1,000 HIV positive Namibian women per month are receiving screening for cervical cancer through a simple procedure at clinics that is quick and easy, called VIA. I want to commend the Ministry and all the clinics offering this service for this rapid achievement in just a few short months.
Women have the right to make decisions that protect their health. Women have a right to choose how they can best prevent the spread of sexually transmitted infections, such as by delaying initiation of sexual activity, using condoms, and considering the number of sexual partners that they have.
But even with these steps, screening at a clinic or other health care site is still the only way to tell if you have pre-cancerous cells. It is very important that all women who have ever engaged in sexual intercourse or are sexually active have regular screening for preventing the development of cervical cancer.
Through PEPFAR funding and technical support from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the American people have supported the Ministry of Health to offer advanced cervical cancer screening services at 37 Ministry of Health clinics and facilities across the country. Together, we have plans to expand to 53 facilities by Sept 2020.
Along with the 37 screening sites, PEPFAR also has supported the establishment of 11 advanced treatment sites at district hospitals across Namibia for women who are identified during screening to have more advanced pre-cancerous cells or suspected cancerous disease. These women now can access treatment closer to their homes, unlike in the past, when this treatment was only available in Windhoek.
The U.S. Government is proud to be a partner in health with the Ministry of Health and Social Services, working together to provide cervical cancer screening and treatment services to the people of Namibia.
The WHO has recently called upon countries to work towards elimination of cervical cancer by 2030. I am hopeful that we are on that path, having today seen firsthand the progress that the Ministry has made by adapting and rapidly implementing better screening options and greater accessibility of treatment for women.
January is cervical cancer awareness month. We should use this time as a call to action and spread awareness of the importance of getting screened. I would like to call on all women, particularly women who are HIV positive and at the highest risk of cervical cancer, to set a date to go for screening, and to pass this message on to their female family members and friends. We must look out for each other and encourage each other to take care of our health.
Let us together set the challenge that all women living with HIV receive screening this year. Because together we can stop cervical cancer in Namibia!”