Entrepreneur

After ‘Self-Screening’ 8,000 Women, This NGO Continues To Challenge Traditional Pap Smears

Author’s Blurb: Ask anyone’s who’s gone through a pap smear, and watch them wince from painful memories. Even my less-than-pleasant first experience has left me hesitant to go back again.

Turns out, there’s a much better way to get your health checked.

Launched early 2019, Program ROSE is an NGO dedicated to helping Malaysian women between the ages of 30-49 years old self-screen at clinics around the country.  

Remember your traditional pap smear with the help of a speculum? Program ROSE did away with all of that and introduced their own painless, quick swab test.

After taking a self-swab at their clinics or events, the results are sent later via mobile / Image Credit: Program ROSE

Since their launch, they have been able to successfully screen more than 8,000 women.

“These are predominantly women from the B40 category and where household income is less than RM5k,” said Dr. Woo, Technical Medical Advisor to Program ROSE.

What they found was that 5 in every 100 women screened end up with abnormal screening tests and would require follow-up screening.

1 in 4 Malaysian women would have never had a cervical screening test done before in their lives.

Relatively Still The First Of Their Kind

When they first were introduced in 2019, Program ROSE wasn’t just the first of its kind in Malaysia. They were the first ones in the world to do what they did.  

“What we’re doing for the first time and is different from everyone else is that the programme integrates self-sampling, HPV DNA testing and an e-health platform,” Dr. Woo said.

She also added that the success of Program ROSE amidst Malaysian B40 women was due to the fact that the kit was a more personal way of obtaining a sample.

“The importance of cervical screening remains very low in our country due to the discomfort and embarrassment of doing pap smears,” she explained.

Awareness is key to providing women with safe and affordable healthcare / Image Credit: Program ROSE

Therefore, this was often avoided altogether. However, they focused all of their efforts into raising the necessary awareness amidst their targeted group of women.

Initially, this was met with scepticism.

“As with any new innovation, there is some scepticism and there will be slow adopters. We just have to continuously engage and educate, as well as dispel many myths,” Dr. Woo stated.

So they expanded their efforts, holding events in more than 6 states in Malaysia.

A screening event / Image Credit: Program ROSE

“The feedback we have been receiving from women who have done the ROSE approach have all been very positive. Consistently, we are getting feedback that more than 97% of our women find this approach acceptable,” continued Dr Woo.

Paying It Forward

One of their more recent efforts has also been the ‘Give A Rose’ fundraising programs that allow non-B40 individuals to perform the test as well as donate to the cause for a total fee of RM250.

Anyone can actually take their screening test.

But because of a strong emphasis on B40 women, ROSE is frequently approached by other NGOs, healthcare providers and event organisers who believe that accessible, cost-effective solutions should be a given right for any women.

According to an interview she had with The Star, Dr. Woo said that their official ROSE Foundation will be giving out 6,000 self-sampling tests under a Corporate Social Programme by Etiqa Insurance and Takaful.

This is in line with their initiative to work with several health clinics in Selangor to provide free screenings to the women of the B40 group.

Ever since their launch, Program ROSE has gone above and beyond providing a simple test for women.

“Women with abnormal screening tests are guided through the process of receiving follow-ups. They have a number and a real person to speak to who will assist them (with next steps),” said Dr Woo.

“Program ROSE is a more holistic end-to-end programme that does not end simply with screening. We include follow-up calls to the screened women up to the point where they have done their colposcopies,” she explained.

For context, a colposcopy procedure is needed when a swab test comes out positive for an HPV infection, although it may or may not mean that an individual has cervical cancer.

Regardless, a more in-depth procedure is needed to check.

When asked about the next steps for Program ROSE, Dr Woo responded, “We will think of more strategies to reach more women and engage with more partners to provide the ROSE screening test to the underserved population.”

Bottom Line: Although I don’t fall in the high-risk group of women that are 30+ yet, I hope that ROSE would be around for a long, long time so this is still an accepted procedure in the next couple of years. Speculums are way too painful to bear.

Editor’s Note: In light of COVID-19, Program ROSE has temporarily suspended all their cervical screening services at selected health clinics, events and their ROSE office. However, their hotline (03-84082211) is still active.

  • You can read more about other Malaysian startups we’ve written about here.

Featured Image Credit: Program ROSE

 

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