Cervical cancer is a preventable disease. It is also curable if detected early and adequately treated. Yet it is the fourth most common cancer among women globally.
WHO‘s Global Strategy to Accelerate the Elimination of Cervical Cancer, launched on 17 November outlines three key steps towards tackling the condition: vaccination, screening and treatment. Successful implementation of all three could reduce more than 40% of new cases of the disease and 5 million related deaths by 2050.
This was a historic milestone because it marks the first time that 194 countries globally committed to eliminating cancer – following adoption of a resolution at this year’s World Health Assembly.
Meeting the goals outlined below by 2030 will place all countries on the path toward elimination:
- 90% of girls fully vaccinated with the HPV vaccine by 15 years of age
- 70% of women screened using a high-performance test by age 35 and again by 45
- 90% of women identified with cervical disease receive treatment (90% of women with pre-cancer treated and 90% of women with invasive cancer managed).
The strategy also stresses that investing in the interventions to meet these targets can generate substantial economic and societal returns. WHO estimates that US$ 3.20 will be returned to the economy for every dollar invested through 2050 and beyond, due 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.
In his remarks, WHO Director-General Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus reiterated the need for join efforts from all countries.
“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.”
Without taking additional action, the annual number of new cases of cervical cancer is expected to rise from 570 000 to 700 000 between 2018 and 2030, while the annual number of deaths is projected to increase from 311 000 to 400 000. In low- and middle-income countries, its incidence is nearly twice as high and its death rates three times as high as those in high-income countries.
“The huge burden of mortality related to cervical cancer is a consequence of decades of neglect by the global health community. However, the script can be rewritten,” says WHO Assistant Director-General Dr Princess Nothemba (Nono) Simelela. “Critical developments include the availability of prophylactic vaccines; low-cost approaches to screening and treating cervical cancer precursors; and novel approaches to surgical training. Through a shared global commitment to the Sustainable Development Goals and leaving no-one behind, the countries of the world are forging a new path to ending cervical cancer. “
However, with COVID-19 impacting the globe, from interruption of vaccination, screening and treatment services to border closures that reduced the availability of supplies, the strategy is launched at a challenging time. As far as possible, WHO urges all countries to ensure that vaccination, screening and treatment can continue safely, with all necessary precautions.
The launch is being celebrated with a day of action across the globe, as ministries of health, partners, and cancer advocates engage in activities to improve access to cancer prevention and treatment for girls and women.