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No Woman Left Behind – a call for gender equity

6 May 2022
Clara MacKay, CEO of The World Ovarian Cancer Coalition

Clara MacKay

CEO, The World Ovarian Cancer Coalition

Marking World Ovarian Cancer Day on 8 May, Clara MacKay reveals the chasm of inequities in ovarian cancer as incidence and mortality rise particularly for already disadvantaged populations.

For our 10th World Ovarian Cancer Day Campaign, we have adopted the theme No Woman Left Behind. This theme reflects our commitment to serve the interests of every woman diagnosed with ovarian cancer no matter where she may live in the world.  It also reflects our growing concern about the future of ovarian cancer; specifically, the impact of the disease on those living in regions that are already battling poverty, fragile health care systems and limited access to even basic treatments. 

Currently, 70% of women who are diagnosed with ovarian cancer live in low- and middle-income countries (LMICs).  This is a significant figure. Our 2021 treatment mapping exercise that looked at access to 15 ovarian cancer medicines in 13 different high to low-income countries highlighted a glaring inequality in access between higher- and lower-income countries, even though all but one treatment (PARPi) included in the review are on the WHO’s essential medicines list. That means that just 30% of the total population living with ovarian cancer have access to even the most basic ovarian cancer treatments. 

Globally, ovarian cancer incidence and mortality are set to rise at an alarming rate over the next twenty years or so.  In 2020, 313,959 women worldwide were diagnosed with ovarian cancer. By 2040 this will increase by 42% to 445,721. Sadly, these increases will be disproportionally experienced in places like Africa (86.6%) Latin America and the Caribbean (49.6%) and Asia (39.8%). By way of comparison, the projected increase in ovarian cancer cases in North America and Europe is respectively 25.9% and 9.6%.  

For women in many lower-income settings, lack of access to diagnostic and treatment options, including surgery, are key challenges.  However, the impact of gender inequity, which results in greater economic vulnerability, less access to education and lower social status, brings an additional dimension of hardship for those diagnosed with the disease.  

Currently, we have very little concrete evidence about the experiences of women with ovarian cancer in LMICs.  This is something that we have set out to change with the launch of the Every Woman Study™️ in LMICs – which is being undertaken in partnership with the International Gynecologic Cancer Society (IGCS)  

The Study is being guided by an Oversight Committee that is comprised equally of advocates and clinicians from the regions being covered. With potential to involve up to 30 LMICs and upwards of 2000 women, the Study will offer unprecedented insight into the experiences of women and those healthcare professionals involved in their care. 

Our preliminary work testing the study questionnaire within participating countries has already highlighted some specific concerns for women in these settings, including devastating financial hardship and abandonment.  We are hopeful that by working with colleagues and partners in LMICs we will be able to contribute to a better understanding of the impact of gender inequity in these settings. We are committed to be part of a global effort for positive change. 

World Ovarian Cancer Day on 8 May is the one day of the year that the global ovarian cancer community comes together in solidarity to raise awareness for this disease. 

Raising awareness of ovarian cancer, its symptoms and risks, as well as awareness of the growing burden of the disease, is an important step. However, it also crucial that we undertake this work with an eye towards supporting the UN Sustainable Development Goal 5 which is achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls. 

Only when those who need care can access it without barriers, regardless of gender, will we have truly reached our goal of #NoWomanLeftBehind and #NoPersonLeftBehind. 

Clara MacKay is CEO of the World Ovarian Cancer Coalition, with nearly 20 years of experience in cancer advocacy, including at senior-level positions in UK organisations covering ovarian, pancreatic, bowel, prostate and breast cancer. She was a founding member of the World Pancreatic Cancer Coalition and Chair of Cancer 52 – a network of nearly 100 cancer groups representing the interests of rare and less common cancers. Currently, in addition to her role with the World Ovarian Cancer Coalition, Clara serves as Chair of the Canadian charity Craig’s Cause Pancreatic Cancer Society.

Last update: 
Friday 20 May 2022