Raising Cancer Awareness in an Area Ravaged by Disease; the Demands of Infectious Diseases like HIV and Malaria Mean That Little Priority Is Given to Cancer in Sub-Saharan Africa. Health Editor Madeleine Brindley Spoke to One Welsh Expert Hoping to Improve Cancer Services in Sierra Leone
Byline: Madeleine Brindley
FOR women in Wales cervical cancer is a disease that can be successfully treated if caught early enough.
A small number of women sadly continue to die every year after being diagnosed with cervical cancer - the death of Jade Goody last year is a case in point.
But overall in Wales and the UK the public perception of the disease is changing, thanks in part to the advent of regular screening and the introduction of the HPV vaccine last year.
Three thousand miles away in Sierra Leone, cervical cancer is a little-known but prolific killer, claiming the lives of between 11,000 and 24,000 women.
Cancer is not a disease that we automatically associate with sub-Saharan Africa - attention has rightly been focused on the huge burden of infectious disease, including HIV/Aids, malaria and TB, which kill people in their millions.
But a fledgling health link between Velindre NHS Trust and Sierra Leone is hoping to improve the provision of basic cancer care and palliative care in the war-torn country, which has little in the way of health services.
Professor Alison Fiander, who is the chair of obstetrics and gynaecology at Cardiff University, was among the group who visited the African nation's capital Freetown.
"I went because of my interest in the prevention of cancer by either screening or vaccination, particularly cervical cancer," she said.
"Cervical cancer is the most common cancer to affect women in sub-Saharan Africa. Women get married and become sexually active early and they also have multiple pregnancies, which are risk factors for the disease but the main thing is there is no access to screening.
"Between 11,000 and 24,000 women are dying in Sierra Leone because there is no way of treating the cancer. Women present very late so it can't be treated with surgery and there are no radiotherapy machines. So if you get it, you die from it.
"Cancer hasn't been a priority because of the huge problem of maternal and child mortality and infectious diseases, like HIV, malaria and TB.
"But as we start to get these under control a bit the burden of cancer becomes more important.
"The women dying from cervical cancer tend to be in their 40s - they are the ones looking after families and are economically productive as they do most of the work and the farming to feed the family. …