NEW DELHI - Social stigma is harming attempts to combat cervical cancer in India where more women die annually of the disease than anywhere else in the world, a new report said Friday.
More than a quarter of cervical cancer deaths worldwide occur in India, representing 72,825 a year according to the report by the US-based Cervical Cancer Free Coalition, although African nations have higher mortality rates.
Cervical cancer is the second largest killer of women in low- and middle-income countries and is a taboo subject in many conservative societies as it is linked to sexual transmission, said the report.
"It is critical to educate the public on the importance of screening and to break down cultural barriers about discussing sexual issues," said Usha Rani Poli, a doctor at the MNJ Institute of Oncology in the Indian city of Hyderabad.
Poli urged dismantling of the cultural barriers that often come in the way of frank discussions over sex in the largely patriarchal and male-dominated Indian society.
India, China, Brazil, Bangladesh and Nigeria account for over 50 per cent of the annual 275,000 cervical cancer deaths, said the report, which compiled data from multiple sources including the World Health Organisation.
Zambia has the highest mortality rate globally at 38.6 deaths per 100,000 women with India registering less than half that rate at 15.2 deaths.
By contrast, Australia, which has a strong cervical cancer vaccine immunisation programme, has the lowest death rate at 1.4.
"Lack of awareness and deep-seated stigma associated with the disease pose significant barriers" to treatment access in many countries with high death rates, the report said.
The group, based in the US city of Chapel Hill, North Carolina and funded by drug firms and other donors, selected 50 countries to provide a global snapshot reflecting geographic, economic and population variations.