The spectacular GDP growth recorded by some West African countries in the past 5 years is all of a sudden undermined by the spread of the Ebola virus. The epidemic has put under the spotlight the poor conditions of health systems in the region, but also the fragility of economic models measured only by Gross Domestic Product.
Cervical screening, based around 'The smear test' has been around since the 80's and is not aimed at diagnosing cancer, but at detecting abnormal cells that may turn into cancer in the future. These cells can then be removed, and the screening program has been shown to reduce cases of cervical cancer by 75% in this country. Not all abnormal cells need removing; the younger the woman and the milder the changes, and the more likely they are to spontaneously regress with time. The reason for this is due to the natural history of the human papilloma virus (HPV), which we know to be the causative agent of cervical cancer.
HPV does not just give rise to cervical cancer. Types 6 and 11 of the virus gives genital warts which affects both genders. Types 16 and 18 can lead to neck and anal cancer, specifically penile cancer in men... In the UK boys can only get the vaccination, called Gardasil, privately... Is it just that girls should get it free while boys have to pay if they want to protect their health?
I should celebrate being single as a mature, happy life preference, and yet here I am, nearly 60, still explaining myself; so my subconscious clearly isn't celebrating, is it? And why? Because too many experiences in my life, like that smear test, exacerbate my self-image of social misfit: of being somehow lesser, if not outright forgotten.
Three years ago, at the age of 29, after taking up the invitation for my regular cervical screening, I received my first abnormal result. The re-test showed mild changes to the cells of my cervix and so I was referred to the hospital's colposcopy clinic for a biopsy. First thing I did? Worry myself stupid!
When did smear tests become something optional? Something we'd try and squeeze in if we had time? Or do more women need to die from cervical cancer before we get the message? It beggars belief that smear tests - which can help spotlight at-risk women and help prevent cervical cancer - are seen as something that isn't absolutely necessary.
The research, commissioned by Jo's Cervical Cancer Trust, shows a third of those aged between 25 and 29 don't take up their 'invitations'. And the older group (60-64) waits an average of three years to get checked. Yet the procedure can prevent around 75 percent of cervical cancer cases by detecting abnormal pre-cancer cells, according to the NHS.
All that has been mentioned so far is the risk to women alone. A virus is not gender specific in seeking out a host and men are prone to infection too. While men manage to dodge the cervical cancer scares, there are many other cancers linked to HPV that will leave many wincing and holding their sacred genitalia in fear.