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311,000 Women: This is Our Fight. Together, We Will Eliminate Cervical Cancer

24 January 2019
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Renia Coghlan, Senior Consultant,
TESS Development Advisors

Every year, an estimated 311,000 women die of cervical cancer. In May 2018, the WHO Director-General led partners in a joint Call to Action to Eliminate Cervical Cancer. This is an ambitious and attainable goal in all countries. We have the knowledge, the technologies, and the means to achieve it. With sufficient political will and persistent implementation of national scale services, we can indeed make this a reality for generations to come. ​

In just over a week’s time, on the 4th of February, it will be World Cancer Day. On that day, I will take a moment to pause and remember those who are no longer here, or who are still fighting their battle against cancer. I will also stop to celebrate those who have a temporary or long-term reprieve. I will think of my friend Amanda, now cancer-free, as she celebrates her son’s birthday. I will remember Edward, our peer, who sadly is not here to watch his daughters grow. But most of all, I will think of all the girls and young women in the world who could, one day, hope to live free from the threat of cervical cancer.

2018 saw the annual cervical cancer statistics surpass the three hundred thousand mark for the first time. In many countries, this is now a greater threat than pregnancy-related complications. By 2040, the health community estimates that that number will increase by almost 50%, to around 460,000 deaths each year.

Each case of cervical cancer is an individual woman with a name, a family, a livelihood, a role in society. Cervical cancer kills women relatively young: many of these women may have children still at home. The consequences are therefore multi-fold. And sadly, the burden of cervical cancer is inequitable, with most deaths from cervical cancer happening in middle- and low-income countries.

However, the situation is not all bleak. Cervical cancer is in fact relatively easy to prevent, detect and treat. The critical factors for success are:

1. High coverage of screening services using the HPV DNA test of women aged between 30 and 49. Followed by prompt treatment of any pre-cancers or cancers, these services save lives now and every day in the coming decades.

2.  High coverage using the HPV vaccine of girls aged 9-13  protecting future generations from the disease. After the launch of a call to action last May, WHO and our governments will discuss accelerating action on the elimination of cervical cancer at the forthcoming Executive Board meeting. Next week, women and men across the world will be tweeting, talking and telling their stories. The stories of how - when we work together and commit to the long term - we know we can make a difference.

You are invited to join this conversation. UICC has developed a social media toolkit to help disseminate these messages. The cancer community is launching a new theme for the period 2019 – 2021: it is a theme of individual commitment and action. Using the hashtag #IAmAndIWill, people are invited to take up the campaign and commit to joining this fight. And if the road to elimination of this disease seems long in your country, just keep in mind the impact we have already seen in high-income settings where cervical cancer was dominant just 50 years or so ago.  

I am a sister, a daughter, an aunt, a cousin. Like many women, I am blessed with a network of strong, articulate, independent, funny, thoughtful female friends. These women who are at risk of cervical cancer. These women who hopefully will have access to prevention, screening and treatment to keep them cancer free. Women working together to keep an eye on each other and look out for their group. These are the women who will benefit from Dr Tedros’ call to eliminate cervical cancer. These are also the women whom he can count on to join forces and call on their governments, researchers, societies, men and women, to support that long term goal of eliminating cervical cancer.

About the author

Renia Coghlan is a public health specialist with a particular interest in advocacy, access to medicines, women’s health and early childhood development. Renia is particularly interested in the intersection between advocacy, evidence and impact: how to harness social energy, data and political will to bring about change. She is inspired and awed by the links across communities, cultures and disciplines which bring people together and change lives. “Do your little bit of good where you are, it’s those little bits of good put together that overwhelm the world”: Archbishop Desmond Tutu. 

Last update: 
Thursday 24 January 2019
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