Written by Staff Writer
Adapted from Global Health by Mike Feeley
The incidence of cervical cancer in women living in low- and middle-income countries is 40 times higher than in developed countries. We are reaching new milestones in tackling the disease and have effectively reached a global high. But much remains to be done. We must invest more into prevention, better diagnostics and reduce its impact with life-saving interventions that save women’s lives.
Donor commitments to sustainable health initiatives have been falling for some time. We need to hold leaders to account for their promises to improve health and compassionately engage the people and populations they represent. In our systems review we have shown that over the last decade, donor commitments to prevent or treat a disease were almost halved. But despite these declining, innovative donors such as the United Kingdom continue to innovate on the frontlines of global health.
An initiative that the UK launched in 2014 to address cervical cancer across the globe is bringing life-saving care to some of the remotest areas of the world. Our commitment to one of the most unlikely countries is part of the UK’s £360 million ($448 million) investment to tackle cervical cancer and related cancers through free cervical screening services and vital life-saving treatment. By 2019, the UK is planning to deliver cervical screening services across 31 countries, with most of the benefits going to low- and middle-income countries.
The UK Health Protection Agency hopes the impact of this will be widespread. The Highlight and Prevent campaign hopes to cut the number of cases of cervical cancer by three-quarters. There are eight cervical cancers for every 100,000 women in the UK, whereas the global rate is 50 per 100,000. The success of the UK’s efforts has been evident in Zambia, where 21,000 women were screened last year, compared to only 2,000 for the same period in 2013.
The program has also advanced survival rates across the globe. In Bangladesh, cervical cancer mortality has dropped from an average of 12 women per 100,000 in 1990 to 3 per 100,000 in 2013. Worldwide, some 4,400 women die from cervical cancer each day and will continue to do so unless action is taken. HPV vaccination has decreased cases and deaths in developed and developing countries.
Four million women have now been vaccinated against HPV and the overall effectiveness of vaccines from different groups has proven. Other vaccines continue to be developed and are currently in clinical development. The first HPV vaccine in Somaliland was trialed in 2009. There is optimism it will reduce the number of new cases. Yet in seven other countries, there have been no vaccines approved and prevented six out of 10 cervical cancers.
Integrated treatment is urgently needed to tackle the problem of cervical cancer in low- and middle-income countries. The UK continues to strengthen its leadership in this area through prevention, early detection and integrated screening, treatment and support services. Over three million women will be supported by the UK on their journeys to save their lives through integrated screening and treatment. There is a growing consensus that investment in women and their families is better than investment in medicine because it helps to close the gap between the most developed countries and the developing world.
We must make a sustained push to reduce the number of cases of cervical cancer, cancer of the womb and gynecological tract cancers by ensuring that the poorest get as much support as others, through free screening, advocacy and accessible quality of life services. It is vital that we focus on women across the globe and empower them to make informed choices about their lives. Health is a human right and we must challenge the status quo. Countries such as the UK should be recognized for their leadership in efforts to reduce cervical cancer, and honored for their efforts to share the benefits of their prosperity with those who need it most.