The World Health Organization (WHO) will join campaigners from around the world on Wednesday to observe a Day of Action against cervical cancer, which claims the lives of more than 300,000 women each year.
One year after the UN agency launched a groundbreaking global project on cervical cancer elimination, WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus has joined forces with celebrities, First Ladies, cancer survivors, and health and community organizations to increase awareness and mobilize efforts.
They noted inequalities in access to life-saving equipment and treatment, comparable to what is occurring during the COVID-19 pandemic, but they also highlighted novel preventative and treatment breakthroughs.
Cervical cancer is the fourth most prevalent malignancy in women, and nearly all cases are caused by infection with the human papillomavirus (HPV), a highly contagious virus spread through sexual contact.
Women and adolescent girls in the poorest nations, however, are denied clinical screening facilities, HPV vaccines, and therapies that “people in rich places take for granted. Despite the fact that women living with HIV have a six-fold increased risk of infection, many do not have access to vaccinations or testing.
In addition, manufacturers have shifted supply to wealthier countries. Only 13 % of girls aged nine to 14 were vaccinated against HPV last year, and 80 nations – accounting for almost two-thirds of the worldwide cervical cancer burden – have yet to implement vaccination.
The discrepancy in death rates is substantial, as it was during the pandemic, with nine out of ten deaths happening in low- and middle-income countries.
During the COVID-19 pandemic, the WHO honored nations that took initiatives to combat cervical cancer.
Other countries were praised for providing healthcare personnel with modern, portable instruments to thermally ablate pre-cancers, a method that employs heat to destroy tissues, or for expanding the use of cervical self-sampling.
This method allows women to collect their own swabs, which can help to decrease stigma and give access to individuals who live far away from medical facilities. The samples can be tested on the same laboratory systems that allow COVID-19 polymerase chain reaction (PCR) testing.
During the pandemic, the agency also reported setbacks, citing a reduction in access to screening services. In a recent survey of 155 countries, 43 % said their cancer treatment had been disrupted. HPV vaccination rates have also decreased globally, falling from 15 % in 2019 to 13% last year.
The World Health Organization highlighted recent advancements in cervical cancer prevention and treatment, such as the prequalification of a fourth HPV vaccine, which is projected to expand and diversify vaccine supply.
New guidelines for research into artificial intelligence-based screening devices have also been announced, which will aid in the detection of pre-cancers as early as possible.
The WHO also announced the establishment of the first designated WHO Collaborating Centre for Cervical Cancer Elimination, which will be vital for research and technical assistance and will be based at the University of Miami in the United States.
The Day of Action will be commemorated with a big global event hosted by the World Health Organization in Geneva, featuring performances and speeches from cancer survivors and artists such as Angélique Kidjo.
To commemorate the day, more than 100 globe landmarks, including Beijing’s Temple of Heaven and Canada’s Niagara Falls, will be lit up in teal the colour of cervical cancer eradication.