Guyana battles rising cervical cancer with HPV voucher programme

… 91 cases of cervical cancer recorded last year

Representatives of various organisations with their vouchers

In light of the increase in cervical cancer cases in Guyana, the Health Ministry has launched a Human Papillomavirus (HPV) voucher distribution programme, which is bolstered by a $2.8 billion allocation in the 2024 budget.
This initiative is timely, as incidents of cervical cancer have surged significantly. Reported cervical cancer cases in Guyana have climbed from 56 in 2020 to 91 in 2023; and despite a minor decrease in cases between 2020 and 2022, the Health Ministry has highlighted, the recent uptick is a call to action for enhanced preventive measures.

Health Minister
Dr Frank Anthony

The current cervical cancer mortality rate stands at 8%, which, although lower than the rates for uterine and ovarian cancers, underscores the critical need for early detection and regular screening. Thus, the HPV voucher programme is projected to screen approximately 211,000 women aged from 21 to 65 by 2030.
Each voucher, valued at $8,000, will cover the cost of HPV testing, and can be redeemed at participating institutions such as New Vision Medical Centre, Woodlands Limited, HUIAQI Health Service, Eureka Medical Laboratory, and Dr Balwant Singh Hospital.
Speaking at the launch of the programme, Health Minister Dr Frank Anthony emphasised that cervical cancer is the second most common cancer among women, and the third most common cancer overall in Guyana, as he described the voucher initiative as part of a comprehensive strategy to eliminate cervical cancer as a public health concern. This strategy includes widespread HPV vaccination, increased early detection, and the implementation of effective interventions to reduce mortality rates.

Director of Non-Communicable Diseases at the Ministry of Health, Dr Latchmie Lall

“In the very early stages, if we see any changes on the cervix, then we can intervene early to prevent cancer from developing. We want to ensure early detection and intervention to increase survivability, and that is the essence of this programme,” Minister Anthony explained.
The minister has also urged members of the public to vaccinate their children and relatives against HPV in order to prevent infections that could lead to cancer. Despite the availability of HPV vaccines in Guyana for over a decade, vaccination rates remain surprisingly low, he disclosed.
HPV, a common sexually transmitted infection, often shows no symptoms, but can cause severe illness if left untreated. Persistent high-risk HPV infections can lead to the development of abnormal cells, which may progress to cancer.
Director of Non-Communicable Diseases at the Ministry of Health, Dr. Latchmie Lall, has noted that this ambitious target requires collaboration with the private sector to ensure testing is conducted safely, securely, and promptly. Test results are expected to be available within 72 to 96 hours.
“We have partnered with hospitals and private facilities to not only identify the presence of the virus, but also determine the specific HPV strain in patients,” Dr Lall explained. This information is crucial to determining the appropriate next steps in patient care.
During the launch event, representatives of NGOs and various ministries and agencies received vouchers for distribution to eligible women. However, vouchers will be available throughout the country by Monday. Last week, the Health Ministry formalized its partnership with private healthcare providers by signing several Memoranda of Understanding (MOUs) to support the cervical screening programme. (G9)