It also urges young girls from the age of 10 to access the human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccine.
The organisation Rhiza Babuyile said the Covid-19 pandemic had put women at higher risk of developing cervical cancer due to its impact on primary healthcare.
It said the most effective way to prevent cervical cancer is vaccination against HPV and regular age-appropriate screening.
Katlego Assis, special projects manager at Rhiza Babuyile, said society and government need to work together to make up for the backlog in patients accessing life-saving primary reproductive health.
“As September is Cervical Cancer Awareness Month, we would like to remind women that proactive and preventative reproductive healthcare is the best way to fight this disease.
“Many women were unable to access certain services because of lock-down restrictions during the first two years of the pandemic. At the same time, healthcare facilities were inundated with Covid-19 response services, so resources for cervical cancer prevention and treatment have been affected.
“The fire at Charlotte Maxeke Hospital, for instance, has directly affected its oncology facilities,” Assis said.
According to the Cancer Association of South Africa (CANSA), cervical cancer is the second most prevalent cancer among women in South Africa. The disease has an incidence rate in South Africa of between 22.8 and 27 per 100 000 women. This is higher than the global average of 15.8.
Risk factors for cervical cancer include poor reproductive health indicators such as poor hygiene, early exposure to sexual activity, and HPV.
“We want to dispel that misconception that cancer is a disease that only affects white people or non-black people. Cancer is prevalent across ethnic groups and affects poor communities as much as it does others,” Assis said.
Rhiza Babuyile embarked on an awareness campaign that includes providing free primary reproductive healthcare to almost 60 women who received pap smears, and those found to have abnormalities in their tests were referred to tertiary health institutions for further medical attention.
The organisation’s healthcare manager for its Diepsloot Mobile Clinic, Sister Thandi Mgcina, said every woman aged 30 and older must do pap smears once every five years, and those with HIV should do it annually.
“Pap smears are not just for those who have just given birth, as per the common misconception. It should be part of every woman’s general health check-up regime,” Assis said.
National health guidelines state that all female pupils from Grades 4 and 5 must get the HPV vaccine. The jab is administered in two doses every six to 12 months. Private school pupils who fall outside the scope of the policy can access the vaccine at a cost of R1 500.
According to CANSA, common symptoms of the disease include abnormal vaginal bleeding between periods, continuous vaginal discharge, longer and heavier menstrual periods, bleeding and pain during sexual intercourse, increased urinary frequency, and vaginal bleeding after menopause.