Cervical cancer is the leading cause of cancer death for women in Zimbabwe. Better Healthcare for Africa is working with clinical collaborators at Harvard Medical School and at St. Albert’s and other hospitals in Zimbabwe to help prevent cervical cancer. Together, we are developing, and will seek funding for, an initiative that will help these hospitals screen women for precancerous changes in the cervix and treat those changes before cancer develops.
The leading risk factor for cervical cancer is infection with the human papilloma virus (HPV). Testing cells from the cervix for the presence of DNA that belongs to HPV is proving to be the most effective way to screen women at risk for cervical cancer. At present, however, HPV DNA testing is too expensive for low-resource countries.
Visual inspection with acetic acid (VIA)
This is the simplest and most economical way to detect the abnormal cells that warn of cervical cancer. In brief, very diluted acetic acid (3 to 5% like vinegar) is applied to the cervix, and the solution turns abnormal cervical cells white. These white, precancerous cells can be seen by visually examining the cervix. According to the Alliance for Cervical Cancer Prevention (ACCP), “Until low-cost HPV DNA testing becomes more widely available for developing countries, visual inspection methods, especially VIA, provide reliable and effective means for reducing the burden of cervical cancer.”
Treatment – Cryotherapy
Cryotherapy is a technology that kills pre-cancerous cervical cells by freezing them. The ACCP has concluded that cryotherapy offers a safe, effective, and simple means of treating women with precancerous cervical cells. And it is affordable in low-resource settings.