WHO CEO Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus joins celebrities, first ladies, cancer survivors and health and community organizations to raise awareness and mobilize efforts a year after the UN agency launched the landmark global initiative to end cervical cancer.
‘We have the tools’
They pointed to inequalities in access to life-saving supplies and treatment, similar to what occurs during COVID-19 pandemics, but also highlighted new advances in prevention and treatment.
“Cervical cancer is extremely painful, but almost completely preventable and, if diagnosed early enough, will become one of the most successfully treatable cancers,” Tedros said.
“We have the tools to collect the history of cervical cancer, but only if we make these tools available to everyone who needs them. We are working with our partners in the WHO Cervical Cancer Elimination Initiative. ”
Cervical cancer the fourth most common cancer in womenand almost all cases are associated with infection with the human papillomavirus (HPV), an extremely common sexually transmitted virus.
Inequality in access
Yet, according to WHO, women and adolescent girls in the poorest countries are deprived of opportunities for clinical screening, HPV vaccines and treatments “which people in rich countries take for granted.” Despite the fact that the risk of the disease increases sixfold for women living with HIV. , many do not have access to vaccinations or screening.
In addition, manufacturers have sent supplies to wealthier countries. Last year, just 13 percent of girls between the ages of nine and 14 worldwide were vaccinated against HPV, and about 80 countries, which account for about two-thirds of the global burden of cervical cancer, have yet to introduce vaccines.
As with the pandemic, the difference in death rates is huge, with nine out of ten in low- and middle-income countries.
Applause to governments
WHO praised countries that took action to tackle cervical cancer during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Other countries have received praise for training healthcare providers in new portable devices for thermal ablation of precancerous lesions, a process that uses heat to remove destroyed tissue, or for expanding the use of self-sampling to detect cervical abnormalities.
This latter process allows women to collect swabs, which can reduce stigma and provide access to those living far from health facilities. The WHO added that the samples can be run on the same laboratory platforms used to support polymerase chain reaction (PCR) testing for COVID-19.
Failures during a pandemic
The agency also reported setbacks during the pandemic as access to screening services fell. A recent survey in 155 countries found that 43% of them reported stopping cancer treatment. Global HPV vaccination rates have also declined from 15 percent in 2019 to 13 percent last year.
“Even in this unprecedented year, significant progress has been made towards eliminating cervical cancer,” said Princess Nono Simelela, Special Adviser to the WHO Director-General on strategic priorities, including the elimination of cervical cancer.
“While we have witnessed significant advances in new technologies and research, the next important step is to ensure that they are developed and available in low- and middle-income countries and that the health and rights of women and girls around the world were in priority order. recovery from COVID-19 “.
Face to face with the future
WHO drew attention to new advances in the prevention and treatment of cervical cancer, such as the prequalification of a fourth HPV vaccine, which is expected to increase and diversify the vaccine offer.
It also released new guidelines for research into AI-based screening technologies to help ensure that precancerous diseases are detected as early as possible.
The agency also announced the creation of the first designated WHO Collaborating Center for the Elimination of Cervical Cancer, located at the University of Miami in the United States, which will be essential for research and technical assistance.
The Day of Action will be marked by a major global event hosted by WHO headquarters in Geneva with performances and performances by cancer survivors and artists such as singer Angelique Kidjo.
To commemorate the day, nearly 100 world landmarks, including the Temple of Heaven in Beijing, China, and Niagara Falls in Canada, will be illuminated in turquoise, the color of cervical cancer elimination.