MOHW announces HPV testing available at all public health facilities in Belize
The Ministry of Health and Wellness says it has achieved a critical milestone in the fight against cervical cancer. Today, the human papillomavirus test is now available at all of Belize’s public health care facilities. The HPV test can help in the early detection of persistent HPV infection in women, which can develop into cervical cancer if left untreated. Gynecologist and obstetrician, Doctor Marcelo Coyi spoke of the significance.
Marcelo Coyi, Obstetrician and Gynecologist: “We know that the human papilloma virus 16, 18, 6 and 11 is the infective agent you would say is a virus that can potentially cause changes in the cervix and these changes if they go unchecked can lead to cancer of the cervix later on and it takes a period of 5 to 10 years for that transformation to take place. Classically what we have done in Belize is to do a pap smear and what a pap smear does is it picks up the cellular changes caused by the HPV. Now the HPV test is a refinement now that rather for wait for changes what the HPV test does is that we identify if that agent is present and if it’s present we identify whether they are the high risk types of subtypes and if a woman is positive for any of the high risk subtypes then we’ll do further investigation with a pap smear or with what’s called a examination with a acetic acid or with a colposcopy and then we can further put these women who are positive into a low risk that means basically that they have the HPV but at low risk of developing cancer or we can put them at higher risk and then we do management appropriately. But it’s a refinement of the HPV test. I think the other good thing about it is that this test allows a person to do it herself as opposed to a pap smear which requires a health care provider, a nurse or a doctor to do it. So I do think that apart that it will help in the uptake of having a test that can identify you as being high risk by a person being able to do the test on herself. It requires specialized equipment to read it and I think the ministry, I don’t think – I know the ministry now has the technology available where it can identify the high risk human papilloma viruses at the central lab and soon to be extended I’m told by the ministry to all the districts and that’s good. That’s good news. I think it’s an improvement and hopefully it would lead to more people getting tested which would mean more people being detected if they are high risk and if they are high risk we can assess them to see if many of them have the precursors to cancer and obviously if you treat the precursors then at some point you should have what is the goal which is the elimination of cancer of the cervix.”
Women 25 to 65 years of age are the target population for HPV testing, particularly women who have never done cervical cancer screening and those who were last screened more than three years ago. According to the Ministry’s maternal and child health technical advisor, Doctor Natalia Largaespada-Beer, this is one additional weapon in the ministry’s arsenal in the fight against cervical cancer.
Dr.Natalia Beer, Technical Advisor for Maternal and Child Health, Ministry of Health and Wellness: “This is one more of the public health interventions from the Ministry of Health and from the colleagues in the private sector improving Women’s Health. It’s I think someone asked earlier why are we introducing it now and not before well it has a cost and Doctor Coyi clearly explained the cost is for the government and not necessarily out of pocket payment by women and many countries don’t have access yet to the HPV test but the idea, the objective is for us to pick up these high risk HPV viruses in these women and then provide them with the care that they need.”
Results of the test will be made available to the patient no later than a week after it is administered.