19 September 2022 | Honiara – The Solomon Islands Ministry of Health and Medical Services (MHMS) is stepping up efforts to prevent and treat cervical cancer. With support from local and international partners, MHMS is implementing multi-pronged measures to protect women and girls across the country from the life-threatening disease, providing human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccines for girls aged 9-14 years old; making screening and treatment available at provincial health centres; and educating and engaging communities.
“Eliminating cervical cancer is a priority as it is the second most common cancer among women in Solomon Islands. Due to the geographical and financial challenges that we face, the screen-and-treat approach is the best approach for Solomon Islands. A one stop shop where women who present to the health facility are seen, examined and treated at the same time before they go home,” explained MHMS Permanent Secretary Mrs. Pauline McNeil.
To support MHMS’s screen-and-treat efforts, the World Health Organization (WHO), with funding from the European Union (EU), is providing 17 thermal ablation devices to be rolled out in Area Health Centres in Honiara, Makira and other provinces. The thermal ablation devices were officially handed over by WHO to the Ministry on Friday 16th September.
Thermal ablation is a WHO-recommended procedure for treatment of cervical precancerous lesions – the damage or changes that may develop on a woman’s cervix that, if left untreated, could turn into cancer. A thermal ablation device, also known as a thermo-coagulator, is a portable, handheld and battery-operated device that uses heat to remove precancerous lesions in a fast, safe, and relatively pain-free way. This prevents the lesions from developing into cancer.
Dr Leeanne Panisi, Chief Obstetrician and Gynaecologist at the National Referral Hospital stated, “We should all work together to eliminate cervical cancer from Solomon Islands. This can definitely be done. But while cervical cancer preventive measures have been introduced in Solomon Islands, a closer look shows that we need to do more. For example, there is a vaccine available that stops women and girls being infected with the virus that causes cervical cancer, HPV. But HPV vaccination coverage among eligible girls was only around 7% in 2021.”
Globally, cervical cancer is the fourth most common cancer, with over 600,000 cases and 342,000 deaths reported in 2020. According to WHO, cervical cancer can be eliminated as a public health problem through the provision of HPV vaccination, screening for early signs of the cancer, precancer treatment, and treatment for early invasive cancer – all of which are available in Solomon Islands.
“Cervical cancer is preventable, treatable and curable, especially if diagnosed early. We urge the women of Solomon Islands who are 30 years old and above to have your regular cervical cancer screening at the nearest Area Health Centre. Don’t wait until you get sick before you get checked,” explained Dr Sonja Tanevska, WHO Solomon Islands Officer in Charge. “The elimination of cervical cancer in Solomon Islands will only be possible if everyone comes together, so we are grateful to MHMS for their leadership and to the European Union for their contribution to the cervical cancer programme.”
The delivery of thermal ablation devices to Solomon Islands is part of a broader partnership between WHO and the EU focused on addressing noncommunicable diseases and building stronger health systems. In addition, the EU and WHO have collaborated since 2020 to support COVID-19 preparedness and response across the Pacific.
Joint MHMS-WHO news release