Bhutan committed to eliminate cervical cancer at the 144thsession of the WHO executive board, which was held in Geneva, Switzerland from January 24 to February 1.

Health Minister Dechen Wangmo said at the Friday Meet yesterday that the main function of the executive board was to decide the agenda for the World Health Assembly and one of the big commitments Bhutan made was to eliminate cervical cancer in the country.

“We have the policy in place and have also introduced pap smear,” Lyonpo said. “We are currently working on the modalities of elimination and have  initiated the formation of the elimination committee who will provide us with the road map towards elimination.”

Cervical cancer, which occurs in the cells of the cervix is sexually transmitted and caused by the Human Papillomavirus.

Bhutan is serving as a member of the executive board, composed of 34 individuals who are technically qualified in the field of health.

While vaccines were also introduced and the next generation would be protected, Lyonpo said it was important to take care of those who were victims of cancer and those who were currently at risk.

Lyonpo said that about 50 percent of the population in the country was women and cervical cancer is the number one cancer in women.

“Being a small country, when we have strong political leadership, I feel we can achieve the elimination,” she said. “The experts also feel that Bhutan can eliminate cervical cancer so we will focus on it and work towards achieving the elimination.”

Prime Minister Dr Lotay Tshering said cervical cancer is not woman’s cancer because women who have never had physical relation with men don’t get cervical cancer. “If cervical cancer is to be eradicated in women then men have to be a part of it.”

Cervical cancer, Lyonchhen said was the most common cancer and the number one killer among Bhutanese women.

“It is a sexually transmitted disease. It is easily preventable. If it was not preventable, it is easily detectable. If it is detected, it is easily treatable,” Lyonchhen said. “Yet, we are losing so many women to this disease. Where is the fault?”

According to the annual health bulletin 2018, of the 1,357 cancer cases reported in the country in 2017, about 7.2 percent was cervical cancer.

Records with the cancer registry at the national referral hospital show that about 226 new cervical cancer cases were registered since the establishment of the registry in 2014 to August 2017.

Lyonchhen said that not only women but men should also be vaccinated. “If men don’t get the virus then women will not get. We have been missing at many levels of the disease’s lifespan. These are all easily doable.”

Lyonpo Dechen Wangmo said she also met with GAVI’s director and discussed on pneumococcal vaccine support for at least five years until Bhutan graduates from the Least Developed Country status.

She said Bhutan was no longer eligible for GAVI, the vaccine alliance support and the country could have funding issues in future.

Pneumococcal conjugate vaccine (PCV) was introduced into routine immunization last month.

“We are also working together with UNICEF at home. UNICEF is a major partner for vaccines,” she said.

In the region, Lyonpo said that there were lots of good examples Bhutan can showcase. “When we went for the meetings, everybody was appreciative of what Bhutan has achieved over the last decades.”

Dechen Tshomo