The World Health Organization (WHO) launched a strategy on November 17, 2020 to rid the world of cervical cancer.
It emphasized that wide use of vaccines, new tests and treatments could save five million lives by 2050.
“Eliminating cancer would once have seemed like an impossible dream, but we now have the cost-effective, evidence-based tools to make that dream a reality,” WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said in a statement.
More than half a million new cases of cervical cancer are diagnosed worldwide each year, killing hundreds of thousands of women from the disease.
The WHO warns that these numbers will increase significantly in the coming years if they do not take action.
The good news is that cervical cancer, which is caused by the human papillomavirus (HPV) – a common sexually transmitted disease (STD) – can be prevented with reliable and safe vaccines.
It is also curable if caught early and treated appropriately.
At the WHO’s main annual meeting on November 9-14 (2020), all 194 member states agreed on a plan to eliminate the cancer.
“This is a huge milestone,” WHO Assistant Director General Princess Nothemba Simelela told a virtual press conference.
“For the first time, the world has agreed to eliminate the only cancer that we can prevent with a vaccine, and the only cancer that can be cured if detected early,” she said.
However, urgent action is needed. WHO predicts that if countries don’t act quickly, the number of cases worldwide could increase from 570,000 in 2018 to 700,000 in 2030, while the number of deaths could increase from 311,000 to 400,000 in the same period.
Simelela insisted that “decades of neglect” were responsible for the high rate of cervical cancer deaths.
This is especially the case in low- and middle-income countries, where there are twice as many cases and three times as many deaths from the disease as in rich countries.
While most high-income countries have introduced widespread vaccination, testing and treatment, access elsewhere has remained much more difficult, in part because of the high cost of vaccine doses.
“If we can improve access for low- and middle-income countries, we can really be on the road to elimination,” she said.
The WHO strategy calls on countries to ensure that at least 90% of girls are fully vaccinated against HPV by 2030 before they turn 15.
It also calls for at least 70% of women to be tested for cervical cancer by the time they are 35, and again by 45, and that at least 90% of women diagnosed with the disease should undergo treatment.
While a series of recent advances promise to simplify testing, reduce costs and ease access, WHO recognized that its new strategy comes at a challenging time, with the world focused on fighting the Covid-19 pandemic.
The pandemic has interrupted vaccination, screening, and treatment for cervical cancer, while border closures have reduced the availability of supplies.
“We’ve probably lost a significant number of women,” said Simelela.
However, she added that the testing infrastructure and systems being created for Covid-19 can hopefully be maintained for screening for other diseases, including cervical cancer.
“We can make history to ensure a future without cervical cancer,” she said. – AFP Relaxnews