Call for Universal Access to Cervical Cancer Prevention, Screening, Treatment, and Palliation: The Time to Act is Now

By Gloria Sangiwa

Gloria SangiwaOn Monday, May 27, MSH joined a group of international organizations to launch the Call for Universal Access to Cervical Cancer Prevention at the Global Forum on Cervical Cancer Prevention, one of the pre-conference events for the Women Deliver 3rd global conference in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.

It Is Possible

It’s estimated that there 530,000 new cervical cancer cases each year, of which about 85 percent are in low and middle Income Countries (LMIC).  But the good news is that we know that cervical cancer is vaccine preventable. The cost of vaccines that prevent cervical cancers has been reduced significantly.

We also know that cervical cancer is treatable if diagnosed and treated early.

We have the tools, methods and diverse approaches for different settings. We know what works. We know what it costs. We have innovative game-changing solutions that can be taken to scale. And, we have a call to action that, if adopted and supported, would prevent suffering, avert millions of premature deaths among young girls and women, and would help promote a better quality of life for millions of girls and women in the world.

Through sharing and exchanging information at this conference, we were reminded that by addressing missed opportunities, and leveraging other global work and interventions like family planning and reproductive health; maternal, newborn, and child health programs; and all the progress made on infectious diseases, such as HIV/AIDS, we can significantly decrease the sufferings and death as result of cervical cancer.

For instance, we can translate the successes of immunization programs and decades of unprecedented global support for prevention and treatment of major killers like AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria prevention to potentially protect and reduce sufferings and death as a result of cervical cancer.

We know this is possible. Mildred is HIV positive and lives in rural Uganda. She was recently screened for cervical cancer. Because of community outreach, supported by the MSH-managed STAR-E project, funded by USAID, she went to a nearby clinic as part of the ongoing and expanded “Prevention for Positive” activities (Watch Mildred’s Story).

She was fortunate that her health care workers had the training to screen, diagnose and treat her pre-cancerous lesions correctly using the low cost innovative approach termed the Visual Inspection with Acetic Acid (VIA) method, and that health care providers and a community volunteer helped her to adhere to treatment.

Other women have not fared as well.

Opportunity and responsibility: Act Now

This is an exciting time: we can reduce the inequality of cervical cancer prevention, care and treatment; bridge the divide between and within countries and regions by:

  • leveraging existing platforms;
  • addressing missed opportunities;
  • advocating and increasing awareness to everyone, including legislators, parliamentarians, communities and health workers; and
  • acknowledging that integrated health programs serve families better

We need to debunk the myths; reduce barriers and stigma; promote community and country driven  responses and make products, technology and medicine accessible to all at an affordable cost.

But we need to act now because no girl or woman deserves to die from preventable illness like cervical cancer, especially when we have a vaccine. All beneficiaries, like Mildred, must benefit from a “whole system ownership” response with contributions from all sectors (public, civil society, and private). All beneficiaries must be involved in the design and implementation of health system innovations.

We must must make cervical cancer a priority and act now.

Stop Women From Dying: A Personal Reflection on Ending the Cervical Cancer Crisis

Shannon EnglandAt the Global Cervical Cancer Forum Monday, May 27, before the official start of Women Deliver 2013, I couldn’t help but reflect upon my family.

My aunt was diagnosed with cervical cancer when I was a student at university. At the time, she was pregnant with her second child. A little over a year after finding out she had cancer, she died.

She was only 31.

She left behind a newborn baby and an infant son—along with a devastated family who could not imagine how to move on from the death of their wife, daughter and sister. My cousins had to grow up without a mother.  And I could not understand how my “cool aunt”—the one who wore bell bottoms and introduced my “traditional” Midwestern family to the “radical” concepts of meditation and vegetarianism—could suddenly be gone.

We did not know back then that cervical cancer was caused by a sexually transmitted virus, HPV. We’ve come a long way since then. Today there is a vaccine can prevent HPV, prevent cervical cancer, and prevent women from dying.

Despite the proven technological advances and 70 percent efficacy, too many women and girls are not getting the vaccine. Some do not have access to it because they live in places where the vaccine is unavailable or too expensive. Some are thwarted by soundless fears that giving the vaccine to girls will increase promiscuity—despite research proving otherwise. For most women and girls, the story ends there: the virus is harmless. But some of the unlucky ones will later develop cervical cancer. And sadly, some of them, like my aunt, will die. The HPV virus is very common—and without intervention—the odds are high that women will become infected.

It doesn’t have to be this way.

I’m extremely proud to be working for MSH, an organization which, together with our partner, USAID, supports Ministries of Health in Uganda and Ethiopia in offering integrated basic screening and treatment services for cervical cancer. I’m hopeful we can expand to more countries as donor funding increases. I’m thrilled that the costs of HPV vaccines have gone down—so that future generations of girls and women around the world may never even need treatment. And I’m convinced that it will take all of us working together and spreading the word in our communities to combat myths about cervical cancer and the vaccine.

It is time to stop women from dying.

Because kids should never lose a Mom — or families a beloved aunt — from a disease we can prevent.

Shannon England is vice president of strategic development and communications at MSH.

Read more about our work in chronic diseases.

Global Cervical Cancer Forum: Live Webcast Here

Watch The Global Forum on Cervical Cancer Prevention opening and closing plenaries from Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia on Monday, May 27, 2013 (time conversions below).

Tune in here for lively conversations with global leaders, including: Dr. Seth Berkley, CEO, GAVI Alliance; Ms. Genevieve Sambhi, cervical cancer survivor; Ambassador, Power Over Cervical Cancer; Mrs. Graça Machel, Foundation for Community Development and Graça Machel Trust; Mr. Yuvraj Singh, cancer survivor, Indian Cricketer; Dr. Felicia Knaul, Director, Harvard Global Equity Initiative; Dr. Christine Kaseba-Sata, First Lady, Zambia; and Dr. Awa Marie Coll Seck, Minister of Health, Senegal, among others.

Speakers will discuss ways to push forward cervical cancer prevention efforts and call on the global community to sign a call for universal access to cervical cancer prevention.

The forum is one of several pre-events to the Women Deliver 3rd Global Conference.

Time Zone Conversions

Opening Plenary: Breaking Down Barriers in Access will stream live at 9am MYT on Monday, 27 May. This is equivalent to:

  • 9:00pm EDT (Sunday, 26 May)
  • 6:00pm PDT (Sunday, 26 May)
  • 1:00am GMT
  • 3:00am SAST/CEST
  • 6:30am IST

Closing Plenary: Making Universal Access a Reality will stream live at 4:30pm MYT on Monday, 27 May. This is equivalent to:

  • 4:30am EDT
  • 1:30am PDT
  • 8:30am GMT
  • 10:30am SAST/CEST
  • 2:00pm IST