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Jamaica’s women let down by failure of cervical cancer vaccine drive

Plans to prevent one of the deadliest cancers for women in Jamaica have been significantly set back by the Covid pandemic, new figures reveal.

The scheme to vaccinate schoolgirls against cervical cancer in Jamaica – which is the cancer with the second highest death rate in the Americas – began in 2018, but the Pan American Health Organization says inoculation rates fell to just 2.71% in 2021. This represents a drastic drop from the 2019 rate of 32%, and far from the WHO target of 90% by 2030.

The cancer, which is curable if caught early, kills 22 in every 100,000 women in Jamaica. By comparison, in the UK the rate is 2.4 in every 100,000, and in Canada it is 2.

Prevention of cervical cancer in Jamaica is also hindered by low rates of cervical screenings. 

“Women are afraid of the screening process and potential pain, but there is also a fear of a cancer diagnosis itself,” said Nicola Skyers of Jamaica’s Ministry of Health. “Some people just prefer not to know. But I also think that healthcare providers don’t offer screenings often enough. If a healthcare provider is really ‘selling’ the pap smear, more often than not the woman will choose to have it.”

Health workers are forced to focus on cures rather than preventions amid staffing shortages and an overburdened healthcare system, said Skyers. “As a doctor, you won’t be encouraging every women you see to do a pap smear if you have 40 patients waiting outside.”

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Source: The Guardian, 2 February 2023


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