Bhutan Cancer Society (BCS) will be carrying out a project to improve access to prevention of breast and cervical cancer services for women and girls in rural communities starting from November 17.

BCS is a public benefit organisation registered under the Civil Society Organisations (CSO) Authority.

In collaboration with READ (Rural Education and Development) Bhutan, health ministry and the Jigme Dorji Wangchuck National Referral Hospital (JDWNRH), BCS will carry out the programme in six dzongkhags

Cervical cancer is the most common cancer in women in Bhutan making up 39 percent of the total cancer cases. The prevalence of human papillomavirus (HPV) in Bhutanese women is 26 percent, one of the highest in Asia.

BCS’s executive director, Dechen Wangmo, said it’s a collective effort for a common cause. She said the pilot programme was found to be effective in terms of community mobilisation. “We did advocacy and created awareness and at the same time made services like Pap smear test available at the campaign. We had a good turnout.”

Punakha, Bumthang, Sarpang, Zhemgang, Pemagatshel and Trashigang were chosen for the project because READ has its centres in these dzongkhags.

It was learnt that people who are accessing READ’s library and community health centres are primarily women who also bring their children with them. “Even if you look at the multidimensional poverty index, these dzongkhags have a lot of social and economic challenges,” Dechen Wangmo said.

“They have a good network and our idea was to capitalise on this strength of READ in terms of community mobilisation,” she said.

Dechen Wangmo said the CSO, through such programmes, seeks to address the low turnout of women for Pap smear testing due to lack of awareness, fear of being detected with cancer and embarrassment at being examined by a male health worker.

BCS aims for early detection of cancers so that there are better outcomes for cancer patients. “Early detection can save lives. We are looking at READ as another organisation that can help facilitate this process,” she said.

The CSO targets dzongkhags that have a high number of cancer patients for advocacy and awareness programmes. Haa and Paro are some of the dzongkhags with a high number of cancer patients.

The society carried out an advocacy programme on stomach cancer in Haa earlier this year. Dechen Wangmo said stomach cancer is most prevalent among males. “Our interventions are based on evidence.”

The CSO will be accompanied by a team of doctors, nurses and cyto-technicians (health professionals trained in the microscopic interpretation of cells to detect cancer and other abnormalities) and a pap smear test facility will be made available at the centres.

Based on the findings of the pilot project in Haa, the BCS submitted a proposal to the Canada Fund for Local Initiatives (CFLI) in India last year. CLFI is funding the project.

Dechen Tshomo