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.