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First-ever global commitment to eliminate a cancer

The World Health Organisation has today launched a Global Strategy to Accelerate the Elimination of Cervical Cancer.

The strategy outlines three key steps, namely vaccination, screening and treatment.

In a press statement after the launch, WHO says that successful implementation of all three could reduce more than 40 percent of new cases of the disease and 5 million related deaths by 2050.

“Today’s development represents a historic milestone because it marks the first time that 194 countries commit to eliminating cancer, following adoption of a resolution at this year’s World Health Assembly” WHO Director-General Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said during the launch.

“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,” added Dr Tedros.

However, he says that 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.

The strategy launched has stressed on the need for investing in interventions to meet targets that can generate substantial economic and societal returns.

An estimated Ksh320 (USD 3.20) will be returned to the economy for every dollar invested through 2050 and beyond, owing to increases in women’s workforce participation. The figure rises to Ksh 2,600 (USD26.00) when the benefits of women’s improved health on families, communities and societies are considered.

According to WHO Assistant Director-General Dr Princess Nothemba Simelela, 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.

“Critical developments include the availability of prophylactic vaccines; low-cost approaches to screening and treating cervical cancer precursors; and novel approaches to surgical training”, she says.

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, “Dr. Simelela added

She noted that the fight against cervical cancer is also a fight for women’s rights and that the unnecessary suffering caused by this preventable disease reflects the injustices that uniquely affect women’s health around the world and together all can make history to ensure a cervical cancer-free future.

The strategy is being launched at a challenging time when the COVID-19 pandemic has posed challenges to preventing deaths due to cancer, including the interruption of vaccination, screening and treatment services and border closures that reduced the availability of supplies and that prevent the transit of skilled biomedical engineers to maintain equipment.

It has also seen new barriers preventing women in rural areas from travelling to referral centres for treatment; and school closures that interrupt school vaccine programmes.

WHO urges all countries to ensure that vaccination, screening and treatment can continue safely, with all necessary precautions.

The 3 targets in the strategy namely 90 percent of girls fully vaccinated with the HPV vaccine by 15 years of age, 70 percent  of women screened using a high-performance test by age 35 and again by 45 and 90 percent of women identified with cervical disease receive treatment stresses that investing in the interventions to meet these targets can generate substantial economic and societal returns

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.

Cervical cancer is a preventable disease, can be adequately cured if detected early and yet it’s the fourth common cancer among women globally. The annual number of new cases of cervical cancer is expected to increase from 570 000 to 700 000 between 2018 and 2030, while the annual number of deaths is projected to rise 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.

By Wangari Ndirangu

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