Approximately 12,000 new cases are detected every year, and over 6,000 die due to the severity of the disease, according to the UN population agency, UNFPA. The Ministry of Health and Family Welfare, UNFPA, and WHO organized a dissemination workshop for the newly endorsed National Strategy for Cervical Cancer Prevention and Control in Bangladesh. 

Director General for Health Services Abul Kalam Azad said the national strategy for Bangladesh has been designed with the goal to reduce the incidence, prevalence, morbidity and mortality from cervical cancer through a coordinated and refined approach for screening, detection, and management.

Over the past 12 months, the health ministry with technical support from the WHO and the UNFPA has held several consultations in the lead up to the development of the National Strategy for Cervical Cancer Prevention and Control in Bangladesh.

Spanning over five years from 2017 to 2022, this new strategy is the first step to align respective agendas and activities among all stakeholders to ensure a coordinated approach in addressing cervical cancer at all different levels.

HPV infections 

Cervical cancer can be caused by the human papillomavirus (HPV), a very common sexually transmitted virus. Though almost 90% of HPV infections are cleared naturally by the immune system, persistent infections can increase the risk of cervical cancer by leading to the development of precancerous lesions that can progress to cervical cancer over a period of about 10 years.

These precancerous lesions can be diagnosed and removed using simple and effective outpatient procedures, but since they do not cause any clinical symptoms, they can only be identified by cervical screening. It is estimated that in Bangladesh, over 30 million women aged 30-60 years need to be screened for cervical cancer.

The primary reason for high number of new cases and deaths is due to yet to be scaled up national mechanisms for high-quality cervical screening programmes. Health Minister Mohammed Nasim praised the advancements made in addressing cervical cancer with 431 health facilities currently performing Visual Inspection with Acetic Acid (VIA) screenings and over 2,212 health care providers trained.

Coverage of vaccination 

He said his ministry is committed “to preventing cervical cancer in the country as it is a critical mandate of the ministry”. He urged all stakeholders “to use this strategy as a foundation to ensure full coverage of vaccination and screening, with the collective goal to eradicate cervical cancer from Bangladesh”.

UNFPA’s chief of health Sathya Narayanan Doraiswamy addressed some of the main objectives of the strategy which includes “scaling up the delivery of HPV vaccine to girls aged 9 to 13 years through a coordinated multi-sectoral approach”.

He said “screening programmes should utilize evidence-based, cost-effective interventions through public health service delivery system across different levels of health care.”

“The introduction of preventive care at health facilities as well as structured advocacy and educational campaign for cervical cancer control are important elements for the national strategy”.