31 October 2012

Southern Africa: Preventing Deaths From Cervical Cancer


Governments in southern Africa must implement comprehensive policies on cervical cancer in order to substantially reduce the number of deaths from cervical cancer, which is now the primary cause of cancer death among women in southern Africa, according to research published today by the Southern Africa Litigation Centre (SALC).

The report - entitled Tackling Cervical Cancer: Improving Access to Cervical Cancer Services for Women in Southern Africa - found that very few countries in the region have comprehensive policies on cervical cancer; essential prevention services, such as screening and vaccination, are not widely available in the public health sector in most countries; and treatment for both pre-cancerous lesions and invasive cancer remains a challenge.

"Cervical cancer is the leading cause of cancer death among women in southern Africa and yet it is completely preventable and treatable even in low resource countries," said Priti Patel, Deputy Director of SALC. "Southern African governments need to make ending cervical cancer a priority to prevent the unnecessary loss of thousands of lives."

Based on regional desktop research as well as field research in Namibia and Zambia, the report found that many women only access medical assistance when they have advanced cervical cancer, which is much more difficult to treat and can be incredibly painful. The report also notes that women living with HIV are more vulnerable to cervical cancer.

"Given the high rates of HIV among women in southern Africa and their greater vulnerability to cervical cancer, it is imperative that governments focus on ensuring that women living with HIV have better access to cervical cancer services," said Patel.

The report, which was partly funded by OSISA, points out that the failure by southern African governments to adequately provide medical and other cervical cancer-related services may result in violations of a number of constitutionally protected rights, including the rights to life, health, equality, dignity, bodily integrity, autonomy and information. Failure to provide services may also violate the rights to freedom from all forms of discrimination and from cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment.

"The failure to adequately address cervical cancer not only leads to the deaths of women, but also violates a number fundamental human rights enshrined in national constitutions as well as under international and regional law," said Nyasha Chingore-Munazvo, a project lawyer with SALC and the author of the report. "This report shows that just by implementing a comprehensive policy on cervical cancer governments can transform cervical cancer treatment in the region. Hopefully, they will read the report and act upon its findings."

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