The World Health Organization (WHO) has unveiled an ambitious strategy for cervical cancer elimination, one of the most pressing threats to the health of girls and women globally.
In what the WHO called “a historic milestone”, 194 member states committed to the Global Strategy to Accelerate the Elimination of Cervical Cancer. This marks the first time member states have committed to eliminate a cancer.
The WHO’s strategy has the potential to reduce cervical cancer cases by forty percent and deaths by five million, if it makes good on its aims across three vital areas: vaccination, screening and treatment. By 2030, the Strategy enshrines countries’ commitment to ensure the vaccination of ninety percent of girls under fifteen years of age with the human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccine; to screen seventy percent of women with “a high-performance test” at both the ages of 35 and 45; and treat ninety percent of both women with pre-cancer treated and of women with invasive cancer.
In addition, the WHO says, “the strategy also stresses that investing in the interventions to meet these targets can generate substantial economic and societal returns. An estimated US$ 3.20 will be returned to the economy for every dollar invested through 2050 and beyond, owing to increases in women’s workforce participation. The figure rises to US$ 26.00 when the benefits of women’s improved health on families, communities and societies are considered.”
Cervical cancer claimed 311,000 deaths in 2018, with approximately 570,000 cases. Most of these deaths are preventable with the HPV vaccine, access to screening and access to care. Women in low- and middle-income countries are disproportionately affected – including India.
In India, cervical cancer is a leading cause of death among women. It accounts for seventeen percent of all cancer deaths and kills 67,500 women every year. This equates to one death every eight minutes.
For cervical cancer elimination to be achieved, LMICs must be aggressively targeted and strategies implemented with maximal commitment, efficiency, and efficacy. Lancet research found earlier this year, as reported by Health Issues India, “at present, such interventions in LMICs are largely lacking, obstructing the path towards cervical cancer elimination.
“The study notes that HPV vaccination has been introduced in fewer than thirty percent of LMICs and that a mere twenty percent of women in LMICs (approx.) have been screened for cervical cancer. Conversely, in high-income countries, more than sixty percent of women have been screened for cervical cancer and more than 85 percent of such nations have introduced HPV vaccination.
“Eliminating any cancer would have once seemed an impossible dream, but we now have the cost-effective, evidence-based tools to make that dream a reality,” said WHO Director-General Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus. “But we can only eliminate cervical cancer as a public health problem if we match the power of the tools we have with unrelenting determination to scale up their use globally.”
Dr Princess Nothemba Simelela, Assistant Director-General of the WHO, said “the fight against cervical cancer is also a fight for women’s rights: the unnecessary suffering caused by this preventable disease reflects the injustices that uniquely affect women’s health around the world. “Together, we can make history to ensure a cervical cancer-free future.”