Tackling cervical cancer in the Pacific region

By Elizabeth Ah-Hi 30 May 2018, 12:00AM

Speakers from around the Pacific came together to share their expertise in a collaboration that seeks to prevent cervical cancer in the region.

The group discussed cervical cancer in their respective countries including Fiji, Tonga, Vanuatu and Samoa. 

In particular they looked at a test in Papua New Guinea (which is at the research level) in order to look at how to facilitate the testing as well as the follow up treatment.

Speaking to the Samoa Observer, Project Manager and Associate Professor in the Department of Pathology, Dunedin, Dr. Merilyn Hibma said, 

“The follow up treatment is really important because the test by itself doesn’t stop the woman from getting cancer she has to have some treatment to prevent the cancer from developing.”

Dr. Hibma pointed out that there are challenges for Samoan women with regards to lack of resources and awareness but that there is new technology developing that will present new opportunities for Samoan women which will address some of the real challenges around human and financial resource.

“From what I understand there is no Pathologist in Samoa, so with these new technology, we don’t need the same level of expertise because these tests are not dependent on pathologist skills to read them so with tests such as gene expert test that was talked about earlier.”

“That can be done by nurses that can be done by people with very small amount of training so they don’t need to be really specialists in running the test. It doesn’t need to be done at the hospital so it can be done in the community and that’s why it would be such an opportunity for Samoa.”

In addition, the new expert gene tests will be a game changer because women will be able to take the tests themselves with no need to visit a clinician.

“There’s no need to visit a clinician or have anyone take it for themselves so its very private so that helps to break down the problems.” 

“Also compared to the pap smear where you use a speculum which can be quite uncomfortable for women with this there’s just a swab so you don’t need to have the speculum. It’s amazing, the opportunity is amazing.”

According to Dr. Hibma, the gene expert test is getting more acceptance and they’ve started using it as a primary screen for D.N.A. test in Australia but they are not yet doing the self sampling but there are more studies that are now working on self sampling particularly for women who find it difficult to access screening for cultural or location reasons.

The test being talked about and used in Papua New Guinea is $17 for a test and Dr Hibma understands that resourcing is an issue one of her team is working to develop a device that does the same thing but would be more suited to the environment. 

“The funding that we got was from the New Zealand government to build a collaboration to explore how to advance this test in the Pacific.” 

“Both New Zealand and Samoa always had a close relationship to date and we would like to keep that relationship going and more broadly in the Pacific and how there could be a more regional approach that’s actually driven by the Pacific which we can enable. We are here to support - we are not here to run.”

By Elizabeth Ah-Hi 30 May 2018, 12:00AM

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