The World Health Organization (WHO) joins advocates around the world to commemorate a landmark Day of Action for Cervical Cancer Elimination, and to welcome groundbreaking new initiatives to end a disease that claims the lives of over 300,000 women each year.
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, according to an WHO press release.
The 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.
WHO’s Director-General Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, 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.
WHO is also highlighting important new breakthroughs to prevent and treat the disease, including the prequalification of a fourth vaccine (Cecolin from a third manufacturer, Innovax) for HPV, which is expected to increase and diversify vital vaccination supply.
s that countries have been investing in to support PCR testing for COVID-19.
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.
Adding to important milestones achieved over the course of the past year, WHO will release new recommendations to guide research into artificial intelligence (AI)-based screening technologies. This first-of-its-kind guidance supports developers to bring cervical cancer screening into the future, and ensure pre-cancers are detected as early as possible.
The first designated “WHO Collaborating Centre for Cervical Cancer Elimination” was also announced at the Sylvester Comprehensive Cancer Centre at the University of Miami, which will be an important site for research and technical assistance to help countries achieve elimination targets.