Free HPV Tests Target Married Women, Nearly 500 Screened

Nearly 500 women were tested this month in a screening drive at Phnom Penh’s Calmette Hospital for human papillomavirus (HPV), two strains of which are known to cause cervical cancer, but the free Pap smear was advertised as being available only to married women.

Hav Monirath, head of the public hospital’s pathology laboratory, said the hospital recently completed two rounds of free screenings, testing a total of 490 women between April 9 and April 20 with lab testing kits donated from a Singaporean company.

Ms. Monirath said the free tests were publicly offered to married women since HPV is sexually transmitted, but that they hadn’t actually been exclusive in practice.

“We announced that we offered the HPV testing for only married women between the ages of 30 and 60, but we did not ask them if they were married or single when they came for the free checks,” she said.

“Some single women have sex too, so it was just a way to prevent single women who have sex from being embarrassed,” Ms. Monirath said.

A report released by the Barcelona-based HPV Information Center last month estimated that 1,512 women are diagnosed with cervical cancer and 795 die from it in Cambodia each year, with cervical cancer ranking as the most common gynecological cancer, particularly among Cambodian women between the ages of 15 and 44.

“About 17.1 percent of women in the general population are estimated to harbor cervical HPV infection at a given time, and 73 percent of invasive cervical cancers are attributed to HPVs 16 or 18,” the report added, referring to the two strains of HPV that have been directly linked with causing cancer.

Dr. Mao Vannak, an obstetrician and clinical training coordinator with the Reproductive Health Association of Cambodia, said girls and women between the ages of 9 and 29 are prime candidates for the cervical cancer vaccine, which can be administered by injection.

Chea Moneth, deputy head of the Ministry of Health’s communicable disease control department, said funding would be needed before a national vaccine program could be put into place.

“There is no national vaccine program yet because we do not have any sponsors yet and the vaccine is very expensive,” he said.

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