AKU Workshop Addresses Cervical Cancer Burden in Pakistan, Highlights Importance of Awareness and Prevention.

Karachi (Muhammad Yasir)

The Aga Khan University in collaboration with the Centre for Women and Child Health at AKU and Liaquat University of Medical and Health Sciences (LUMHS) Hyderabad, held a workshop on the “Burden of Cervical Cancer” at Civil Hospital, Hyderabad. The aim was to raise awareness and promote prevention strategies for cervical cancer. Cervical cancer is a significant concern globally, ranking as the fourth leading cause of cancer-related deaths among women. However, developing, and low- and middle-income countries (LMICs) including Pakistan, bear a disproportionately higher burden of cervical cancer cases and deaths. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), cervical cancer mortality in LMICs is 18 times higher than in high-income countries. A recent study by the CITRIC Health Data Science Centre at AKU found that the incidence rate of cervical cancer among women in Pakistan is 7.6 per 100,000. This rate is higher than WHO’s target rate of 4 per 100,000 for cervical cancer elimination. These statistics call for national-level policy implementation focused on prevention and elimination strategies. The primary cause of cervical cancer is persistent infection with Human Papilloma Virus (HPV). Fortunately, HPV vaccines are available, making cervical cancer largely preventable. “Cervical cancer is the only gynaecological cancer that can be prevented by vaccination and can be treated in its pre-invasive stage through regular screening. Early detection preserves not only the uterus but also fertility,” said Dr Uzma Chishti, Assistant Professor and Associate CMO, Department of Obstetrics and Gynaecology at the seminar. HPV vaccines were first introduced in 2006. WHO now recommends the use of a single-dose HPV vaccine, which is as effective as the previously used two or three-dose regimen. While high-income countries have successfully integrated HPV vaccination into their health systems, low-middle-income countries like Pakistan lag far behind due to limited resources and insufficient data. “To effectively target the elimination of cervical cancer-associated morbidity and mortality, gathering national-level data on incidence, prevalence, and mortality is imperative” said Dr Zainab Samad, Chair of the Department of Medicine and Director of CITRIC Health Data Science Centre, AKU. She reiterated the need for better data sharing and contribution from both the public and private sectors, along with consistent surveillance over time to track the burden for improvement. To address this need, the National Cancer Registry of Pakistan was established, enabling comprehensive analysis of cancer data from multiple registries. Accurate and detailed national-level data will empower policymakers and healthcare professionals to focus their efforts on eliminating cervical cancer and its associated health consequences in Pakistan. During his remarks, the Chief Guest Dr Muhammad Arif Khan, Deputy Director General of the Director’s Office in Hyderabad, emphasized the alarming incidence of cervical cancer witnessed in Pakistan halfway through 2023. The workshop concluded with Dr Arshad Chandio, Immunization Lead Jhpiego, International Papillomavirus Society (IPVS) Ambassador for Pakistan, acknowledging the progress made in bringing the HPV vaccine to Pakistan and expressed optimism about its imminent introduction in the country.