Did you know that if you’re a woman, and you’re 30 years or older, you are entitled to a free medical check-up for cervical and breast cancer?
You’re not alone if you didn’t know that. As it turns out, not many Sri Lankans are aware of this. This is worrying considering thousands of women in Sri Lanka die from these types of cancer every year.
If a malignant tumour is detected during the early stages of the disease, it can be extracted and life can be saved. Unfortunately, we have free medical checkups but most women do not use it.
How serious is breast and cervical cancer in Sri Lanka?
The Family Health Bureau of Sri Lanka (FHB) has estimate that there are around 1,500 new cases of cervical cancer recorded each year, and each year about 840 women die from the disease. While there are 2,000 estimated cases of breast cancer each year, and 1,000 women die of the debilitating disease.
The free medical checkups are carried out at special clinics known as ‘Well Women Clinics’. The clinics can be found at every Medical Officer of Health (MoH) areas in the country. According to the FHB and the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) Sri Lanka, despite Sri Lanka’s progressive healthcare women, only 33% of the population of women aged 35 participated in Well Women Clinics in 2013.
Why don’t women get their free medical checkup?
The top reason for this is that most women don’t feel the need to visit a health clinic if they don’t feel ill. Routine health checkups are also a new concept to Sri Lanka.
Their daily responsibilities tend to get in the way too: Heavy household chores and some women have paid work on top of that as well. So difficulty of finding the time to visit a health clinic is one reason why women don’t turn up.
Lastly, and probably the most disturbing, is that most women lack family support. Their family would dissuade them from visiting health clinics for cervical and breast cancer checkups because of their attitude towards the disease.
Cultural beliefs and sentiments don’t help either. Some women feel ashamed to get medical checkups of their breast and cervix.
But aren’t women in urban areas more aware of these types of cancer?
You would think so given the advertorial campaigns we see in the media. But according to Achini Wijesinghe, a social change entrepreneur from the UNFPA, lack of awareness of the Well Women Clinics is a problem.
Whether they are in urban, rural or estate areas, most women in Sri Lanka know little or nothing about the Well Women Clinics, says Achini who campaigned heavily in Ampara to get more women to get medical checkups,
“Building awareness is important. In urban areas some women know about breast and cervical cancer but don’t go for medical checkups because they prefer to go to private hospitals and they charge a lot”. She added that that is why awareness building is important in urban areas as well – so women in these areas are aware that the medical care at the Well Women Clinics are of a high standard.
The FHB, along with the Ministry of Health, have set a target of reaching 80% of the population of women aged 35 and over in the next 3 to 4 years. Having started in 2009, they have been able to cover 35% of this population by 2014.
Well Women Clinics were introduced by the Ministry of Health in 1996 to combat the emerging epidemic of non-communicable diseases (NCD).