January 23, 2023
Cervical Cancer Awareness Month 2023
Addressing global health disparities is a key focus for the WHO
Cervical cancer is a preventable and curable condition – yet is the fourth most common cancer among women globally, taking the lives of hundreds of thousands of women each year. Like many diseases, the burden falls disproportionately on lower to middle-income countries, which is why the World Health Organization (WHO) is focused on addressing global disparities in access to high-quality health services.
Two years ago, the WHO set an ambitious goal outlining three key steps – vaccination, screening and treatment. Successful implementation of all three could reduce new cases of cervical cancer by 40% or more and deaths by five million by 2050.
To meet the goal, the WHO introduced the “90-70-90” targets. These are for countries to achieve 90% of human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccination coverage for girls by age 15, 70% screening coverage for women by ages 35 and 45 and 90% treatment for cervical pre-cancer and management for women with cancer by 2030.
Working Regionally to Eliminate Cervical Cancer
In low- and middle-income countries, the incidence of cervical cancer is nearly twice as high and death rates are three times higher than high income countries. Around 90% of new cases and worldwide deaths in 2020 occurred in low and middle-income countries.
The disparity between first world and developing countries is therefore stark. This is why we welcome the official launch of the WHO’s Regional Cervical Cancer Elimination Strategy during this year’s Cervical Cancer Awareness month (January). The focus on the Eastern Mediterranean region will increase awareness of the condition in countries that are not as advanced in healthcare diagnosis, treatment and services. And in this region, cervical cancer is the sixth most common cancer in women – in 2020, around 89,800 women were diagnosed with the disease.
The WHO’s strategy is partly based on the three core pillars of the global strategy. The actions for the region include:
- Accelerating HPV vaccine introduction and improving coverage
- Improving screening and pre-cancer treatment.
- Increasing the availability of early diagnosis, treatment, rehabilitation and palliative care services.
- Strengthening health systems for integrated and equitable delivery of high-quality services in vaccination, screening and treatment.
- Improving communication, advocacy and social mobilization to increase awareness of prevention, treatment and to help combat vaccine hesitancy.
When diagnosed early, cervical cancer is one of the most successfully treatable forms of cancer. Tremendous advances have been made with the HPV vaccine in the UK, where cervical cancer incidence is predicted to plummet among women aged 25 to 29 by 2040.
Cervical cancer is the first cancer the global community has ever attempted to eliminate. By building on 2020’s momentum and developing regional strategies to help bring the benefits of the vaccine to the wider global community, cervical cancer could be eliminated within a few generations.