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Health: African Women Coping with Reproductive Cancers


Women’s health in Africa is our feature series this week, and to conclude: the topic of reproductive cancers – what they are and how to deal with them. Yves Bergevin is the senior Africa program adviser for reproductive health at the UN Population Fund (UNFPA). From New York, he told English to Africa reporter Cole Mallard, “Cancer of the cervix is the most common cancer…killing between 50 to 100 thousand African women each year.” He says breast cancer is about three times less frequent in developing countries than in the industrialized world.

Bergevin says cervical cancer is a sexually transmitted infection caused by a virus, and there are three strategies for dealing with it. One is prevention, which is encouraged in the form of the “ABC” approach: “A” for abstinence, delaying one’s first sexual encounter; “B” for being faithful to one partner, or a very limited number; and “C” for “comprehensive condom use.” The UN specialist says the second strategy is early screening for detection and treatment before the cancer invades the tissue. Bergevin says this procedure, common in industrialized nations, is known as the Pap test and “is not available yet in many developing countries.” He says this extremely effective test involves “taking a swab of the cells of the surface of the cervix and examining them under a microscope. The third strategy is “a very exciting new vaccine” licensed in early June in the United States, which will prevent the virus that causes cervical cancer. He says the World Health Organization (WHO) and the UN Population Fund are looking for ways to get this vaccine into developing countries in the next decade “if we can get a good price.…”

Bergevin adds, “We have worked with pharmaceutical manufacturers and with international organizations to ensure much lower prices…as has been done recently for vaccines and even more recently for the anti-retroviral drugs [for HIV/AIDS], which are much less expensive for people living in developing countries.”

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