Preliminary testing at home to keep cervical cancer at bay

Treating cervical cancer becomes easier if it is detected early. Early detection of the disease is important not only because it saves one from the risk of cancer but also because every woman has a right to good health.

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), although cervical cancer is treatable, it continues to claim the lives of numerous women worldwide. Unfortunately, in India, limited facilities are available to test for cervical cancer, despite the alarming number of deaths attributed to this disease in the country.

Screening plays a vital role in the early detection and timely treatment of cancer. However, despite its significance, an alarming number of 75,000 women lose their lives each year due to cervical cancer, mainly due to a lack of awareness and therapeutic resources. Additionally, about 1.25 lakh women are diagnosed with this deadly disease every year. The WHO recommends every woman who has turned 30 to undergo screening every five to 10 years. This proactive measure ensures prompt treatment if cervical cancer is detected.

Working towards bringing social change

Team

In 2019, Anirban Palit and his wife Dr Sayantani Pramanik, from Vadodara, Gujarat, tragically lost their domestic worker to cervical cancer after it was detected at an advanced stage. Despite efforts, she could not be saved. It is often said that women play a big role in every family, but they take least care of their own health. This made Anirban and Sayantani determined to bring a change on the ground. Anirban stated, “Such a perception about women’s health made us think about working towards bringing a positive change”.

According to Sayantani, “Women often feel reluctant to visit a gynaecologist, and this hesitation is heightened for unmarried women who worry about the nature of questions they may be asked. Personal inquiries related to sexual activity and marital status can make them uncomfortable. Additionally, certain communities face specific challenges when accessing gynaecological care. The problem arises when women withhold important information, leading to more severe consequences if they have an underlying disease.”

She further adds, “It is essential for every woman between the ages of 25 and 69 to undergo the pap smear test. I personally went for the test and encountered an unpleasant of waiting for one-and-a-half hours and being subjected to uncomfortable questions. This personal encounter motivated me to address this issue and contribute meaningfully to the treatment of cervical cancer.”

Making it easier for middle-class families

While working for a global pharmaceutical company, Anirban came to recognise a significant disparity between the early detection and treatment of cervical cancer. Understanding that the disease is primarily caused by sexually transmitted HPV, Anirban aimed to utilise his expertise in cervical cancer treatment to assist people from lower income groups. His goal was to prevent deaths resulting from this devastating disease within their families, thereby making a meaningful impact.

In 2019, Anirban left his job and formed Pragmatech Healthcare Solutions with Dr Sayantani, childhood friend and lawyer Palna Patel and gynaecologist Dr Bhagirath Modi.

Doing cervical cancer testing at home

After two years of research, they came up with a self-sampling kit called Cervicheck. Women themselves can do the preliminary testing of cervical cancer at home with the help of the kit. “The kit gives accurate results. Not only HPV testing can be done with the kit but also one can examine whether the disease is in a treatable stage,” Anirban said.

According to Anirban, the sampling kit has been certified by the Central Drugs Standard Control Organisation and their screening kit is in its final stage of development. “We will bring the kit into the market after it receives certification. While the self-sampling kit will cost Rs 200, the screening kit will be around Rs 400,” he added.

kit

Financial help and guidance

The testing of the kit during the clinical study was conducted in the government SSG Hospital in Vadodara and Prayas Clinic in Pune. According to Anirban, the kit will be made by a Vadodara-based start-up called Savli Technology and Business Incubator (STBI).

He also said that while STBI has agreed to make the kit, Pune’s Venture Centre has helped the former in receiving grants and guiding it on regulatory procedures. Bodies such as Biotechnology Industry Research Assistance Council, HDFC CSR Fund and Pfizer’s INDovation have provided financial help to the initiative.

The Cervicheck team wants to take the facility to the rural areas since an early-stage diagnosis and immediate treatment are essential for treatment of cervical cancer. They said that while it takes 15-20 years for cervical cancer to develop in women who have a normal immune system, those with a weaker system can be afflicted with it in five to 10 years. “Our goal is to ensure that women undergo tests not only because of the risk of getting afflicted with cancer but because they must spend their whole life in proper health,” Anirban said.

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AYUSH for Holistic Wellness

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