Campaign launched to prevent cervical cancer

Tote bags with virus screening voucher, information kit to be distributed from July

Cancer survivor Summer Ng, an ambassador with the Singapore Alliance for Active Action Against Human Papillomavirus, at the launch of the I Am Campaign on Tuesday. The campaign, led by The Royal Commonwealth Society of Singapore, aims to raise awaren
Cancer survivor Summer Ng, an ambassador with the Singapore Alliance for Active Action Against Human Papillomavirus, at the launch of the I Am Campaign on Tuesday. The campaign, led by The Royal Commonwealth Society of Singapore, aims to raise awareness about cervical cancer and prevention measures. ST PHOTO: JASON QUAH

When Ms Summer Ng was 24, she was diagnosed with cervical cancer. The health food entrepreneur had been experiencing unusual bleeding but went for a health check-up only months later, which confirmed her worst fears.

Two years earlier, Ms Ng had heard about the human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccine, which has a high efficacy rate in preventing the disease.

However, she did not find the impetus to get the jab.

"I thought, why was I so foolish? Why didn't I take the vaccine earlier? If I did, I wouldn't have to suffer for so many years," she said.

Now 29, Ms Ng is an ambassador with the Singapore Alliance for Active Action Against Human Papillomavirus (A4HPV), a group that aims to eliminate cervical cancer in Singapore.

On Tuesday, Ms Ng helped to launch the I AM Campaign, which hopes to raise awareness about cervical cancer and its prevention measures. The campaign is led by The Royal Commonwealth Society of Singapore.

Under the initiative, young Singaporeans aim to make and sell up to a million tote bags, which will contain a HPV screening voucher and an information kit about HPV and cervical cancer. The screening voucher allows for one visit at selected general practitioner clinics.

The bags, made of cloth, will be distributed over 12 months from July. For every hand-made bag bought for $30, an additional bag will go to vulnerable communities in Rwanda in Africa to support their fight against cervical cancer.

British High Commissioner to Singapore Kara Owen, who opened the event, said: "We can all play a part to raise awareness of HPV and cervical cancer, so everyone can make informed choices on screening and vaccination."

Cervical cancer is the second most common cause of death by cancer in women aged 15 to 44 in Singapore. Almost all cases of cervical cancer are caused by HPV, which is as common as the flu virus and can infect both men and women.

HPV is mainly transmitted through sexual activity. Regular screening allows cervical pre-cancer due to HPV infection to be detected early for treatment.

Women aged 25 to 29 are recommended to do a pap smear test every three years, and those 30 and above should do it every five years.

HPV infection and cervical cancer can be prevented with vaccination. Since April 2019, all Secondary 1 girls in national schools have been offered free vaccination. The recommended age range for vaccination against HPV in Singapore is nine to 26.

Dr Christopher Chong, medical technical adviser to the A4HPV, said: "Awareness is key to early prevention and it is important for everyone to protect themselves through HPV vaccination."

Ms Ng, whose cancer is in remission, said: "Don't take your health for granted. You need to be responsible for yourself, and that is to take the first step to take the vaccine."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on May 13, 2021, with the headline 'Campaign launched to prevent cervical cancer'. Subscribe