Today's New York Times has an article summarizing the disturbing results of a new study looking at trends in cervical cancer morbidity and mortality in Latin America.
In an era in which most cases of cervical cancer can be prevented or detected early and treated, the study – sponsored by the Sabin Vaccine Institute, the Pan American Health Organization, and the US CDC, among others – concluded that cervical cancer-related deaths are likely to double in Latin America in the next 20 years. Fewer than five per cent of women in Africa, Asia and Latin America are screened for cervical cancer, as compared to 70% of women in North America and Europe. Most of these women also lack access to newly-approved HPV vaccines.
Does this truly have to be the case? Must we continue to needlessly condemn 250,000 poor women to death every year? Even if we accept the argument that current screening and treatment technologies – Pap smears and the HPV vaccine – are too costly to be used widely in resource-poor countries like Haiti and Nicaragua, what about lower cost screening technologies like VIA (visual inspection of the cervix using acetic acid)?
For almost a decade, it has been known that clinicians, usually nurse-midwives, can detect more than three-fourths of pre-cancerous and cancerous cervical lesions simply by wiping a patient's cervix with acetic acid (white vinegar) and examining it visually. That this method is not more widely used, particularly in light of a recent Lancet study showing that VIA is as effective as traditional screening methods in India, is shameful.
It's time to wake up and smell the vinegar ...