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Home News and Update Year 2009 India Targets Cervical Cancer. Over to Bharat

India Targets Cervical Cancer. Over to Bharat

Times of India
8 June 2009
By Meenakshi Kumar

When British reality TV star Jade Goody was told live on Indian TV that she had cervical cancer , it may have been the first time many Indians Message heard of the deadly disease. But it shouldn’t have been that way. Cervical cancer kills 74,118 Indian women every year. A recent authoritative study found about 1.3 lakh new cases of cervical cancer reported every year in India, about a quarter of the five lakh cases globally. But a new radio and print media campaign is trying to remedy that with glamourous stars urging Indian women to have regular screenings or pap smears.

Medical experts say lack of awareness about cervical cancer is one of the reasons for the high toll. Studies show that countries with awareness campaigns have fewer cases. A recent WHO study reports that in China, just over half of the 45,689 women diagnosed with cervical cancer every year die. Doctors believe that the numbers can be brought down in India too if more women are made more aware. That’s where this recent campaign, initiated by a pharmaceutical company in collaboration with the Indian Cancer Society, can help. The results of a survey of 200 women prompted the company, MSD India to launch the campaign. Anjana Narain, business head of its vaccines unit, says, “Only 40% were aware of the disease while less than 30% realized how serious it could be. We felt it was time to educate them.”

The initial campaign was launched in December, ran three weeks and featured on radio, billboards, newspapers, buses and bus shelter posters. But it was in English and not able to reach India’s main sufferers–poor women, beset by unhygienic living conditions, lack of awareness and prone to multiple sexual partners.

This is why the campaign was relaunched on May 10, Mother’s Day, in the vernacular and designed to grab attention by featuring successful women from different walks of life such as Biocon chief Kiran Mazumdar Shaw, Bollywood actors, film director Farah Khan and fashion designer Neeta Lulla. It has run in Delhi, Mumbai, Kolkata, Chennai, Hyderabad and Bangalore. “Our idea was to do it as sensitively as possible. The facts are stated frankly so that no fear is created among wo–men,” says Narain.

For many, it may mean the difference between life and death, says Dr Hemant Tongaonkar, chief, genito–urinary and gynaecologic oncology services, at Mumbai's Tata Memorial Hospital. He recalls a small awareness campaign run by his hospital in the small town of Barshi in Maharashtra's Sholapur district 10 years ago. “Now 10 years later, we find that there has been a significant decrease in the number of women who test positive for cervical cancer.”

There have been successful government–backed awareness campaigns for breast cancer–Think Pink, for example–but little has been done for cervical cancer. Jyotsana Govil, additional secretary, Indian Cancer Society, says the government has not made a serious effort to educate women. “When we started the pap smear test in 2000, we met government officials. Everybody was appreciative but nobody came forward to do anything,” she says.

Tongaonkar says it may be time to take the radio campaign out of the big cities and into Bharat because rural women are very vulnerable on account of “Very poor genital hygiene”.

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