KUALA LUMPUR, July 29 — Insurance company Etiqa and nonprofit ROSE Foundation have launched a free cervical cancer screening programme using HPV tests for 6,000 poor women throughout Malaysia for one year.
The HPV test under the ROSE system is self-administered, with results sent to women’s mobile phones between one and two weeks, unlike conventional pap smears that are conducted by a health professional.
“The ROSE programme combines self-sampling, an effective HPV test, and an e-health digital platform,” Dr Woo Yin Ling, medical technical advisor to the ROSE Foundation, said in a speech at the launch of the programme in Pandan here yesterday.
“The ROSE programme guarantees all women that there will be someone who can give you guidance on what to do next if your test results are abnormal. This will help women overcome their fears and concerns and enable them to get hospital treatment,” she added.
Dr Woo observed that many women currently did not know what to do if their pap smear results were abnormal, with some ignorant about follow-up visits while others were too afraid to go to the hospital.
She also pointed out that women only needed to take the HPV test twice in their lifetime to screen for cervical cancer, compared to 15 times for pap smears.
The costlier HPV test is more sensitive than a pap smear. The former checks for HPV — a group of over 150 related viruses where some types cause cancer, including cervical cancer — whereas a pap test looks for abnormal cells or cell changes in the cervix.
The RM1.2 million year-long free cervical cancer screening campaign by Etiqa and ROSE Foundation targets 6,000 women from the bottom 40 per cent (B40) who are between 30 and 49 years old.
The free HPV tests will be provided at selected public health clinics in the peninsula, Sabah, and Sarawak in a few months’ time.
When asked how ROSE Foundation will identify its target 6,000 B40 women, the non-profit said it was working with the Health Ministry to choose health clinics located in predominantly B40 communities.
“So, the ones that are more outskirt, not the ones central in town,” ROSE Foundation operations manager Liyann Ooi told CodeBlue.
“Apart from that, we would also be running some outreach screening activities to reach the more underprivileged. Next month, when we go to Miri, we’ll be going to Lawas to be more targeted.”
She said that for Kuala Lumpur and Selangor, the free HPV tests will be provided at only one or two health clinics since the Klang Valley is predominantly middle class.
“But sometimes, we would work with some of the local PPR flats to try and reach the communities within the Klang Valley as well,” Ooi added.
ROSE Foundation hopes to get its cervical cancer screening programme up and running at the health clinics over the next few months.
“In the meantime, we’re focused on getting training done for health care professionals,” Ooi said.
R. Karunakaran, chairman of Maybank Ageas Holding Berhad, Etiqa’s parent company, said Etiqa has contributed more than RM4.5 million since 2017 through 14,000 cancer screenings for B40 women.
“Cancer is an increasingly serious problem, especially for the B40. Financial constraints and the lack of awareness and accessibility are among the reasons why women from this group don’t do the appropriate cancer screenings,” he said in a speech at the launch of the programme yesterday.
Cervical cancer is the third most common cancer among women in Malaysia. Health Minister Dzulkefly Ahmad said recently that Malaysia’s cervical cancer incidence rose to 10.5 per 100,000, according to the 2018 Globocan report, from 6.5 per 100,000 in 2011.
ROSE Foundation, a non-profit that aims to eliminate cervical cancer in Malaysia, had developed its cervical cancer screening programme together with Australia’s VCS Foundation. The ROSE programme started off as a research project led by Universiti Malaya.