WHO Campaign on Cervical Cancer
17th November 2020 will be marked in the future as the day something beautiful began. Yesterday, after the 73rd World Health Assembly, the World Health Organisation (WHO) made a historical announcement; to make our world free of Cervical Cancer. They also officially launched an elaborate elimination strategy, with specific targets set to be achieved by 2030. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic situation, the event was held virtually and was hosted by the WHO leadership. It is co-sponsored by the governments of Australia, Botswana, Lesotho, Malawi, Nigeria, and Rwanda.
The campaign was launched following a Call to Action in May 2018 from the WHO Director-General, Dr Tedros, where 194 countries resolved to end the needless suffering from a cancer that is both preventable and curable. And the best part? The world already has the necessary tools to implement this; it only needs to be made accessible throughout the globe.
Why Cervical Cancer?
As said earlier, Cervical Cancer is one type of cancer that is both preventable and curable. This is not a statement that we can associate with any other cancer, and hence it is alarming that Cervical Cancer is still a leading cause of death related to cancer. It is one cancer that the world can actually eliminate. If no action is taken, the annual number of new Cervical Cancer cases is expected to increase from 570000 to 700000 between 2018 and 2030, while the annual number of deaths is projected to rise from 3,11,000 to 4,00,000. This will be more hurtful to the low and middle-income countries, where Cervical Cancer incidence is nearly twice as high and death rates thrice as high as in the high-income countries.
Cervical cancer is one of the rare cancer types that have a vaccine for treatment and prevention. Cervical Cancer is a type of gynecologic cancer that forms in the tissues of the cervix. There are usually no symptoms of cervical cancer, but can be found with a screening test called Pap Test or HPV Test. At later stages, the symptoms such as vaginal discharge or bleeding and Pain during sex may appear. The Human Papillomavirus (HPV) causes almost all cervical cancers, and therefore cervical cancers at the early stages can be treated with an HPV vaccine.
The HPV Vaccine
The HPV vaccine protects the body against infections caused by the Human Papilloma Virus (HPV). The HPV causes certain types of cancer like cervical cancer, anal cancer, oral and pharyngeal cancer, vulvar cancer, and vaginal cancer. Therefore, taking HPV vaccination is highly effective in avoiding these cancers.
The Pap Smear
The Pap Smear, also called the Pap test, is a screening procedure used to screen for Cervical Cancer. This was invented in the 1920s by George Nicholas Papanicolaou and is known after his name. The test checks for the presence of precancerous or cancerous cells on the cervix. The process takes only about 10-20 minutes and is advised for women once every three years.
As a result of the success of the HPV vaccine and the Pap Smear, Cervical Cancer can either be prevented or diagnosed early enough to be completely cured. WHO Assistant Director-General Dr Princess Nothemba Simelela shares this opinion, " The huge burden of mortality related to Cervical Cancer is a consequence of decades of neglect by the global health community. However, the script can be rewritten.
WHO's Global Strategy to Eliminate Cervical Cancer
To accelerate the elimination of cervical cancer, WHO outlines three key steps; Vaccination, Screening and Treatment. The aim is to successfully implement these key steps to reduce more than 40% of the new Cervical Cancer cases and 5 million deaths by the year 2050. The highlight of the campaign is the participation of 194 countries, focused on a single aim, something that has never happened before. The main aim of the campaign is to achieve the following targets by 2030.
- 90%of girls fully vaccinated with the HPV vaccine by 15 years of age.
- 70%of women screened using a high-performance test by age 35 and again by 45.
- 90%of women identified with cervical disease receive treatment.
The strategy also points out the substantial economic and societal returns that the strategy will generate. It is expected that for every dollar invested, an estimated US $ 3.20 will be returned to the economy, along with the added women workforce participation. WHO Director-General Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus points out that, "Eliminating any cancer would have once seemed an impossible dream, but we now have the cost-effective, evidence-based tools to make that dream a reality.
"A Cervical Cancer-Free Future: First-Ever Global Commitment to Eliminate a Cancer. World Health Organization, World Health Organization, 17 Nov. 2020, www.who.int/news/item/17-11-2020-a-cervical-cancer-free-future-first-ever-global-commitment-to-eliminate-a-cancer.
"Launch of the Global Strategy to Accelerate the Elimination of Cervical Cancer. World Health Organization, World Health Organization, 17 Nov. 2020, www.who.int/news-room/events/detail/2020/11/17/default-calendar/launch-of-the-global-strategy-to-accelerate-the-elimination-of-cervical-cancer.