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Cervical Cancer: Causes, Precautions And The Need For India To Pay Attention

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By Kritika Kamthan:

“Reproductive freedom is critical to a whole range of issues. If we can’t take charge of this most personal aspect of our lives, we can’t take care of anything. It should not be seen as a privilege or as a benefit, but a fundamental human right.”
~ Faye Wattleton

A mother, a daughter, a wife, a sister–a woman. The opposite sex as many term her, a woman, in her various avatars is the core of a family. We come across several discourses on women’s rights including women empowerment and gender inequality. However, rarely do we read or hear many on health for women and specifically cervical cancer–an issue which must be addressed immediately. Cervical cancer is one of the leading causes of women related cancer deaths in India today (Source) In absolute numbers, India bears the highest burden of the disease in the world.

cervical cancer

Cervical cancer is the cancer of the cervix, an organ connecting the uterus and vagina and is commonly caused by a sexually transmitted virus called the Human Papillomavirus (HPV). At least half of the sexually active population contracts the infection at some point in their lives(Gynaecologic cancer, Cervical Cancer, Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)). Though, most of the populace clears out the infection naturall, those who contract the higher-risk strains of HPV continue to have persistent infections which lead to the development of cervical cancer .

The disease is the second most deadly killer of women worldwide with 500,000 new cases, and 275,000 deaths annually. The World Health Organization (WHO) and the Institute Catala d’Oncologia estimate that every year 130,000 Indian women (older than 15 years of age) are diagnosed with cervical cancer and approximately 74,000 die from cervical cancer (Source). Based on current projections, the number of cervical cancer cases and deaths are estimated to increase by 2025 to 203,757 and 115,171, respectively.

Despite the advent of new tools and technologies cervical cancer continues to remain a critical public health challenge in India. A majority of deaths due to cervical cancer can be attributed to issues such as low awareness levels of the disease, stigma, affordability, lack of access to screening and vaccines and lack of political will to push the disease higher up in the nation’s health agenda. However, it is vital to note here that the disease is largely preventable. If detected early, cervical cancer can be treated and the patient can lead a healthy life.

That said it is important to understand the significance of primary prevention techniques–screening and vaccination–for protection against cervical cancer. Since this is a slow growing cancer that may not exhibit any symptoms, it is important that a sexually active woman undergoes screening at least once, every two years. Regular screening ensures that a woman is guarded against the spread of the cancerous cells. Otherwise, death is imminent. There are several screening tests available in the market like Visual Inspection with Acetic Acid (VIA) as well as Pap Smears and others such as HPV testing. Additionally, vaccination at an appropriate age is also essential to help prevent the disease. Ideally, the girls must be vaccinated before the onset of sexual activity. The cultural hegemon–a doctor–plays a pivotal role in providing guidance on vaccines as well as the screening procedures available.

India at the moment is balancing itself on a delicate powder keg. Although the country has made enormous strides in all spheres, women’s health and specifically, reproductive health, continues to remain neglected. The health of a woman is intrinsically linked to their status in the society(Source) . Various studies reveal that a woman’s contribution to a family is often overlooked and she is considered an economic burden. While there are exceptions, women in India face severe challenges to their health. Cervical cancer NEED NOT be one of the challenges. While on one hand, the need of the hour is a strong public information campaign to generate awareness around the disease, we as citizens can also lend a helping hand in curbing cervical cancer. As stated previously, the disease is largely preventable provided we undergo regular screenings as well as get vaccinated against the disease. If these urgent steps are not undertaken immediately, the number of deaths caused by this deadly killer will continue to gather dust in a pile of weather beaten and decaying records.

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  1. Rahul

    Excellent piece. Great information.High time we adopt some initiative regarding protection against cervical cancer. Well infact there is a global meet on comprehensive cervical cancer prevention and treatment programs at Kuala Lampur this May –

  2. Sreejit

    After reading the article I felt that the author has made a case for vaccine , rather too emphatically in the of prevention of Cervical cancer ? There are many questions still unanswered about HPV vaccine. The length of protection after a primary series of vaccine is unknown. The vaccine is very expensive . Can countries like India afford to dispense this vaccine for more broader use . The article although talks about prevention and yet has for some strange reason not suggested anything on an equally effective but less resource intensive strategy- STI prevention. Like many other viral STIs including HIV , condom promotion is still a mainstay in the prevention of STI especially in resource constrained settings like India. India has done reasonably well as far public health control of STI is concerned. Wouldn’t it be a natural progression if can tap into the momentum , expertise and experience from HIV/STI prevention efforts ?

  3. Sreejit

    It would be good if articles on health related issues in the media including social media and online web portals are qualified by a note on who the author/s is/are and what their affiliations are.. It is a common norm to write /state the interest of the author on health related articles !!

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An ambassador and trained facilitator under Eco Femme (a social enterprise working towards menstrual health in south India), Sanjina is also an active member of the MHM Collective- India and Menstrual Health Alliance- India. She has conducted Menstrual Health sessions in multiple government schools adopted by Rotary District 3240 as part of their WinS project in rural Bengal. She has also delivered training of trainers on SRHR, gender, sexuality and Menstruation for Tomorrow’s Foundation, Vikramshila Education Resource Society, Nirdhan trust and Micro Finance, Tollygunj Women In Need, Paint It Red in Kolkata.

Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

Saurabh has been associated with YKA as a user and has consistently been writing on the issue MHM and its intersectionality with other issues in the society. Now as an MHM Fellow with YKA, he’s launched the Right to Period campaign, which aims to ensure proper execution of MHM guidelines in Delhi’s schools.

The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

Read more about his campaign.

Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

Her campaign #MeriMarzi aims to promote menstrual health and wellness, hygiene and facilities for female sex workers in UP. She says, “Knowledge about natural body processes is a very basic human right. And for individuals whose occupation is providing sexual services, it becomes even more important.”

Meri Marzi aims to ensure sensitised, non-discriminatory health workers for the needs of female sex workers in the Suraksha Clinics under the UPSACS (Uttar Pradesh State AIDS Control Society) program by creating more dialogues and garnering public support for the cause of sex workers’ menstrual rights. The campaign will also ensure interventions with sex workers to clear misconceptions around overall hygiene management to ensure that results flow both ways.

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MH Fellow Sabna comes with significant experience working with a range of development issues. A co-founder of Project Sakhi Saheli, which aims to combat period poverty and break menstrual taboos, Sabna has, in the past, worked on the issue of menstruation in urban slums of Delhi with women and adolescent girls. She and her team also released MenstraBook, with menstrastories and organised Menstra Tlk in the Delhi School of Social Work to create more conversations on menstruation.

With YKA MHM Fellow Vineet, Sabna launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society. As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

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A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Find out more about the campaign here.

A native of Bhagalpur district – Bihar, Shalini Jha believes in equal rights for all genders and wants to work for a gender-equal and just society. In the past she’s had a year-long association as a community leader with Haiyya: Organise for Action’s Health Over Stigma campaign. She’s pursuing a Master’s in Literature with Ambedkar University, Delhi and as an MHM Fellow with YKA, recently launched ‘Project अल्हड़ (Alharh)’.

She says, “Bihar is ranked the lowest in India’s SDG Index 2019 for India. Hygienic and comfortable menstruation is a basic human right and sustainable development cannot be ensured if menstruators are deprived of their basic rights.” Project अल्हड़ (Alharh) aims to create a robust sensitised community in Bhagalpur to collectively spread awareness, break the taboo, debunk myths and initiate fearless conversations around menstruation. The campaign aims to reach at least 6000 adolescent girls from government and private schools in Baghalpur district in 2020.

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A psychologist and co-founder of a mental health NGO called Customize Cognition, Ritika forayed into the space of menstrual health and hygiene, sexual and reproductive healthcare and rights and gender equality as an MHM Fellow with YKA. She says, “The experience of working on MHM/SRHR and gender equality has been an enriching and eye-opening experience. I have learned what’s beneath the surface of the issue, be it awareness, lack of resources or disregard for trans men, who also menstruate.”

The Transmen-ses campaign aims to tackle the issue of silence and disregard for trans men’s menstruation needs, by mobilising gender sensitive health professionals and gender neutral restrooms in Lucknow.

Read more about the campaign here.

A Computer Science engineer by education, Nitisha started her career in the corporate sector, before realising she wanted to work in the development and social justice space. Since then, she has worked with Teach For India and Care India and is from the founding batch of Indian School of Development Management (ISDM), a one of its kind organisation creating leaders for the development sector through its experiential learning post graduate program.

As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

Find out more about her campaign here.

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A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

A Gender Rights Activist working with the tribal and marginalized communities in india, Srilekha is a PhD scholar working on understanding body and sexuality among tribal girls, to fill the gaps in research around indigenous women and their stories. Srilekha has worked extensively at the grassroots level with community based organisations, through several advocacy initiatives around Gender, Mental Health, Menstrual Hygiene and Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) for the indigenous in Jharkhand, over the last 6 years.

Srilekha has also contributed to sustainable livelihood projects and legal aid programs for survivors of sex trafficking. She has been conducting research based programs on maternal health, mental health, gender based violence, sex and sexuality. Her interest lies in conducting workshops for young people on life skills, feminism, gender and sexuality, trauma, resilience and interpersonal relationships.

A Guwahati-based college student pursuing her Masters in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bidisha started the #BleedwithDignity campaign on the technology platform, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in’s flagship program ‘She Creates Change’ having run successful online advocacy
campaigns, which were widely recognised. Through the #BleedwithDignity campaign; she organised and celebrated World Menstrual Hygiene Day, 2019 in Guwahati, Assam by hosting a wall mural by collaborating with local organisations. The initiative was widely covered by national and local media, and the mural was later inaugurated by the event’s chief guest Commissioner of Guwahati Municipal Corporation (GMC) Debeswar Malakar, IAS.

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