Rinzin Wangchuk 

Bhutanese women living in remote villages could expect early detection of cervical cancer with the arrival of mobile medical equipment and a medical van provided by the government of Japan under “the Grant Assistance for Grassroots Projects (GGP)” yesterday.

In March this year, the Japanese government through its Embassy in New Delhi provided USD 86,712 (Yen 9.36 million) to Bhutan Cancer Society (BCS), a non-governmental organization, to procure a vehicle and cancer detection equipment. The grant was meant to help BCS with advocating early detection and providing support services to cancer patients in the country.

The GGP project was inaugurated and handed over the medical equipment by the representative from Japanese Embassy in New Delhi, Minister (economic and development) Hokugo Kyoko, in Thimphu yesterday. “We hope that this project will improve access to medical services in remote areas where cervical cancer screening has been difficult to reach,” she said.

“The government of Japan hopes that this project will contribute towards reducing the mortality rate in Bhutan,” Hokugo Kyoko said.

BCS’s Executive Director Sonam Yangchen said, “With the portable medical equipment like ultrasound, colposcopy and thermo-coagulation using the medical van, we will take service to the women in the far-flung areas for early detection of cervical cancer and encourage them for early treatment.”

As per the report published in December 2021 by UNFPA in Bhutan, cervical cancer is the most common cancer in Bhutanese women, with an estimated 20.5 cases per 100,000 women and 4.7 deaths per 100,000 women in 2019.  It was predicted that without any intervention, a total of 2,877 women will die from cervical cancer by 2070 and 5,810 by 2120 in Bhutan.

The report stated that a national cervical screening programme using Pap testing was established in 1999. However, screening participation rates have been low. In 2010, Bhutan rolled out a successful national HPV vaccination programme for girls aged 12 years, reaching over 90% coverage each year.

To reach the elimination targets, the report stated that Bhutan will need to maintain the current successful HPV vaccination programme, and will also need to ensure a high coverage cervical screening programme is implemented using a high-sensitivity test such as the HPV test.

Over the years, communities and organisations in Bhutan have greatly benefitted from the support provided by the Government of Japan under GGP.

Bhutan also received equipment support from Japan to combat the Covid-19 pandemic like portable ultrasound scanners, SUV-type ambulances and some medical equipment to help strengthen the public health and medical system in Bhutan.