Cervical cancer is killing 3,00,000 women every year across the globe, according to the World Health Organization (WHO) on occasion of a landmark Day of Action for Cervical Cancer Elimination.
Expressing concerns over the issue, the world leaders have called for elimination of the deadly disease on occasion of the day.
The WHO has stated that as with COVID-19, access to lifesaving tools is constrained, with women and adolescent girls in the poorest countries deprived of clinical screening facilities, human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccines and treatments which those in affluent places take for granted.
The UN agency pointed out that ahe disparity between deaths from cervical cancer in high-income compared with low-income countries tells a stark story, similar to that we have seen during the pandemic, with 9 in 10 deaths from cervical cancer happening in low and middle-income countries.
“Over the last decade, manufacturers have tilted supply toward wealthier locations. In 2020, just 13% of girls aged 9–14 years globally were vaccinated against HPV – the virus that causes almost all cases of cervical cancer. Around 80 countries – home to nearly two thirds of the global cervical cancer burden – are yet to introduce this lifesaving vaccine,” the WHO informed.
Dr WHO’s Director-General Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, said that together with celebrities, first ladies, cancer survivors and health and community organizations, will help raise awareness and mobilize action – one year after WHO launched its landmark global initiative to eliminate cervical cancer.
Dr Tedros stressed that cervical cancer causes immense suffering, but it’s almost completely preventable and, if diagnosed early enough, one of the most successfully treatable cancers.
He added, “We have the tools to make cervical cancer history, but only if we make those tools available to everyone who needs them. Together with our partners in the WHO cervical cancer elimination initiative, that’s what we aim to do.”
The risk of cervical cancer increases six-fold for women living with HIV, but many have not had access to vaccination or screenings.
Dr Tedros applauded countries that have adopted innovative ways to increase access to technologies and services that can stop cervical cancer during the COVID-19 pandemic.
In the past year, the HPV vaccine was introduced in seven countries - Cameroon, Cape Verde, El Salvador, Mauritania, Qatar, Sao Tome and Principe, and Tuvalu – bringing the total to 115.
According to the WHO, some countries trained healthcare workers with newer, portable devices to thermally ablate precancers. Others expanded the use of self-sampling – endorsed in recently published WHO guidelines – to allow women to collect their own cervical swab. This option can reduce stigma for women, provides access to those living far from health facilities, and helps congested health centres maintain safe services while respecting COVID-19 safety measures. The self-collected sample can be run on the same laboratory platforms that countries have been investing in to support PCR testing for COVID-19.
It added that but setbacks have occurred. Access to screening services has fallen for many women and in a recent survey, 43% of countries reported disruption to cancer treatment. Meanwhile HPV vaccination rates globally fell from 15% in 2019 to 13% in 2020, amidst health service disruptions and school closures.
Dr Princess Nono Simelela, Special Advisor to the Director-General on Strategic Priorities, including Cervical Cancer Elimination, said that there has been important progress towards cervical cancer elimination even over this unprecedented year.”
“While we have seen major advances in new technologies and research, the critical next step is to ensure these are designed for and accessible in low- and middle-income countries, and that the health and rights of women and girls everywhere are prioritized in the recovery from COVID-19,” she added.