Noguchi Memorial Institute for Medical Research launches a Cervical Cancer Project

The Noguchi Memorial Institute for Medical Research (NMIMR), in collaboration with the Cervical Cancer Prevention and Training Centre at the Battor Catholic Hospital and the National AIDS and STIs Control Programme, has successfully launched a new Cervical Cancer Project.

This project, known as the ICERV-GH project, is designed to investigate and make recommendations regarding cervical cancer screening and approaches to be integrated into routine care for women living with HIV in Ghana.

The project, according to Prof. George Boateng Kyei, Associate Professor of Virology at NMIMR and Principal Investigator for the project, comes in light of new evidence indicating that “90% of cervical cancer deaths worldwide occur in Africa and HIV patients are six times more likely to develop the disease.”

He made these remarks while providing an overview of the ICERV-GH Project during the launch event held at the Conference Room of the Institute. Prof. Kyei emphasised the heightened risk of cervical cancer among HIV-positive individuals, drawing from his experiences as an HIV physician in the United States, which informed the development of the present project.

Prof. George Boateng Kyei, Principal Investigator of the I-CERV-GH project

“When I was working as an HIV physician in the US, one of the things we were careful to do for all the women in the clinic was cervical cancer screening. So, when I realised screening was not routine in Ghana, it was quite worrying and I wished there was something I could do about it,” recounted the principal investigator.

Prof. Kyei underscored the fact that due to the vital nature of cervical cancer, such a project was long overdue. He mentioned that “ideally, we should not be doing a project like this in 2024 because cervical cancer screening should be routine for all women. Unfortunately, cervical cancer screening is still not accessible to most women in Ghana.”

Regarding the specific objectives of the project, the Associate Professor of Virology stated, “The ICERV-GH project aims to revolutionise cervical cancer screening by incorporating same-day tests and treatments for precancerous lesions. Utilising Human Papillomavirus (HPV) Polymerase Chain Reaction (PCR) screening, the project will leverage GeneXpert machines already available in Ghana for TB testing.”

According to him, the goal will be to streamline the process and reduce the risk of loss to follow-up by providing comprehensive care during routine HIV clinic visits. “We hope to provide evidence that cervical cancer screening can be integrated into routine HIV care if nurses are trained to take charge of the screening using validated and simple treatment protocols,” Prof. Kyei added.

Chairperson for the launch event, Dr. Deborah Atobrah, a Senior Research Fellow in Medical and Social Anthropology at the Institute of African Studies, in her remarks, congratulated the project team and commended them for their great innovation.

Dr. Deborah Atobrah, Senior Research Fellow, Medical and Social Anthropology, Institute of African Studies, University of Ghana

She wished them successful deliberations and described the project as flourishing, as all the equipment is set to operate, including the networks and functional collaborators.

Dr. Atobrah further stated that initiatives that relieve females from pain are commendable, considering the detrimental impact of stigmatisation, particularly on women living with cervical cancer. She added her voice to calls for cervical cancer screening to be made routine, similar to breast cancer screening, in order to prevent the spread and risk of the disease.

In delivering a solidarity message during the launch, Programme Manager of the National AIDS/STIs Control Programme, Dr. Stephen Ayisi Addo, noted that the project was coming in at an important time. He acknowledged that the National AIDS/STIs Control Programme was seeking to partner the institutes to build evidence to guide their policies and the development of guidelines for seamless integration of cervical cancer care for persons living with HIV.

Dr. Stephen Ayisi Addo, Programme Manager, National AIDS/STIs Control Programme

“We hope this is the biggest of all the different things we are doing. By embarking on this with the other groups, we believe that at the end of the two years, we will have built enough evidence to support us in our line of duty,” Dr. Ayisi Addo intimated.

Dr. Ayisi Addo also led the unveiling of the project logo and explained the logo as a symbol of passion for liberating women in Ghana and freedom from cervical cancer.

Representatives from other collaborators, including the World Health Organisation (WHO) and the Ghana Health Service (GHS), encouraged non-governmental organisations and communities to channel support towards the project, underscoring that support for the initiative will go a long way to ensure the expected project outcomes are achieved.

The ICERV-GH project is funded by L’Initiative, a funding mechanism implemented by Expertise France launched at the end of 2011, which complements the work of the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria. It is targeted at 3,000 women across the Greater Accra, Central, Eastern, and Volta regions.,

Some stakeholders at the launch of the project 

The Korle-Bu Teaching Hospital Infectious Diseases Centre, Ewim Polyclinic, Cape Coast Metropolitan Hospital, Elmina Polyclinic, Atua Government Hospital and St. Martin de Porres Hospital, Agomanya, will be the designated health facilities.

Evidence gathered during the implementation of the project will form the basis for the development of a holistic national programme serving as a manual and a document that will serve as a reference and framework for a future national programme.