On the invitation of the Commonwealth Secretary-General, The Rt Hon Patricia Scotland, Prof Maithree Wickramasinghe, First Lady of Sri Lanka participated in the Fireside Chat which was held on the sidelines of the Commonwealth Leaders Event on 5 May 2023. The session, which was hosted by Jeannette Kagame, the First lady of Rwanda, was moderated by the Deputy Secretary General of the Commonwealth, Dr Arjoon Suddhoo in conversation with the First Ladies of the Bahamas, Gabon, Ghana, and Sri Lanka. The focus of the discussion was on the designing and implementation of education and awareness advocacy campaigns to effectively reach women and girls to promote the importance of cervical cancer prevention and address the cultural and social barriers that may prevent them from seeking care.
In her remarks, Prof Wickramasinghe stated that cervical cancer is the sixth most common cancer among women and account for 6% of all cancers diagnosed in Sri Lanka. She spoke of Sri Lanka’s National Strategic Plan to reach the interim targets of cervical cancer elimination between 2021-2030 centred on prevention, detection via screening and diagnosis& treatment. Elaborating on the prevention aspect, Prof Wickramasinghe spoke of the HPV vaccination programme currently in place in Sri Lanka for girls aged 10-12 years, which was commenced in 2017 through the school-based immunization programme and achieved a vaccination coverage of almost 98% in 2021. In terms of detection, it was pointed out that Sri Lanka conducts screening programmes through the Well Women Clinics – a national programme implemented through the Medical Officers of Health (MOH). She also elaborated on the measures taken for prompt treatment to reduce mortality due to cervical cancer.
In terms of socio-cultural barriers which prevents women from seeking care, Prof Wickramasinghe emphasised the importance of educating girls from primary and secondary classes on embodiment from a biological as well as gender, psychological and other perspectives, enabling girls to become familiar and comfortable with one’s body. She also elaborated on the need to deal with and acknowledge the trauma associated with cancer, which would facilitate the treatment process.
High Commission of Sri Lanka
10 May 2023