Five reasons why Kenyan women don’t go for cervical cancer screening

January is known for many things chief among them being broke, but few people know that it is the cervical cancer awareness month.

According to the Ministry of Health in Kenya, this type of cancer causes the most number of deaths in the country.Currently, cervical cancer is the second most common cancer among Kenyan women after breast cancer. At least 2,454 women are diagnosed with this type of cancer every year in the country and 1, 6676 die from it. The latter part is great irony as cervical cancer is totally preventable.

Cervical cancer prevalence in Kenya continues to increase by the day and the factors that contribute to this include having first intercourse at an early age, hormonal contraceptives, multiple pregnancies, HIV infection, and smoking.

According to Dr. D.W. Mbugua of Prestige Health Clinic, Cervical cancer is caused by the Human Papilloma Virus (HPV) virus and just as HIV testing is done to know people who are infected before it becomes AIDS, so should screening for HPV be done to establish its presence before it progresses to the pre-cancer and cancer stages.

“The condition is treatable as long as you get to it as fast as possible. In fact, treatment should start as soon as screening reveals positive results for HPV,” said Mbugua

Cervical cancer causes much pain, economic loses and death which leaves many children all over the world destitute. Since it is preventable it is important to go for screening which many women have not done so far. As opposed to the past when women had to go for visual inspection or the Pap smear test, now they can just go for HPV testing.

At the moment, most women are not taking the testing seriously for varied reasons and here are some of them,

  1. Don’t fix it if it isn’t broken

As long as some women feel healthy they do not see the need to go for a medical checkup. Sad but it is true, such women only show up at the hospital when things are thick and this is usually when doctors can do very little for them or when much effort and money is needed to help treat their condition. I belong to this group and I am very ashamed of this. In 2018 things have to change and I will take my health much more seriously.

  1. Lack of awareness   

97% of women are not aware of the HPV virus that causes almost all cases of cervical cancer. This is according to a survey that was carried out on women in the major cities in Kenya namely Kisumu, Mombasa and Nairobi.

The study, which involved 327 women aged between 18 to 60 years, also revealed that the women do not know that it is sexually transmitted as well. The study was conducted in October 2016 by the Consumer Options Limited after being commissioned by the Lancet Group of Labs and Allison Productions.

According to the Science journal of public health, this problem does not only affect Kenya. Many other countries in Sub-Saharan Africa also have lack awareness as one of the reasons why most women are not going for screening.

  1. Cultural attitudes and beliefs

Cultural beliefs and attitudes are also among the main reasons why women are not going to screen for cervical cancer. Some cultural beliefs make people see cancer as a curse and hence associate it with people who committed a certain sin and are, therefore, being punished for it. Since they are not cursed then they do not see the need to go for screening. In other communities, going for testing may mean that you are actually welcoming the disease to your household.

According to a study done by the Black Minority Ethnic groups (BME), some ethnic groups actually associate cancer with a particular kind of death as well. This means that few people were willing to talk about it so that it does not enhance its malevolent power.

  1. Fear of pain and discomfort

Most women fear of pain when undergoing the screening process. The screening may require the medical personnel to insert the test kit inside the vagina of the woman to take samples for screening and many women fear that it may cause them much pain. Some family members and friends also spread the rumor that it is painful and uncomfortable, making other women shy away from it.

  1. Lack of money

On average, it will cost you about Ksh. 1000 to for cervical cancer screening in some of the best places in Kenya. Most women cannot afford such because the cost of living is already too high and people give priority to the basic needs.

When people hear of the required amount, they just opt to leave their health to fate. Although it costs that amount to go for screening, new technology has made it possible for one to go for screening just once in five years. That is fair for many women who may have that Ksh. 1000. Unfortunately, many of the government health centers do not offer the services in the local areas because they do not have the required equipment.

All is not, however, doom and gloom as there are some health facilities and organizations that offer free cancer screening to those people who cannot afford the services. Please for cervical cancer screening and tell a friend to help save as many lives as possible.

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1 Comment

  1. Njeri M Reply

    Thank you for your article. It is a grave reality that women in Kenya are still dying from cervical cancer in such high numbers. However, as a cytologist and women’s health advocate, kindly allow me to correct one or two items mentioned.

    First, factors associated with HPV infection do not include multiple pregnacies. Rather, included are multiple sexual partners as well as the others mentioned. Also, use of hormonal contraceptives is yet to be proven to be a factor associated with HPV infection, as per current science.

    Secondly, the concensus by authorities on cervical cancer prevention and treatment worldwide agree that the optimum approach to screening is Pap + HPV testing. A positive HPV test means that a certain strain (low or high risk) is present at the time of testing. It is NOT an indicator of disease as say a positive HIV test would indicate. In this respect, HPV infection is unique and should be treated using protocol already laid out by WHO and of course, the country’s MOH.

    We, as women, should certainly advocate more strongly for affordable reproductive healthcare, and definitely for more accesible cervical health screening. If we can spend the 1500 for hair and cosmetics, we can certainly afford the 1000 for a painless pap.
    Plan ahead, save your life.

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