“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”, WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said in a statement.
The strategy, backed by WHO Member States at the World Health Assembly last week, involves vaccinating 90 percent of girls by the age of 15, screening 70 percent of women by the age of 35 and again by the age of 45, and treating 90 percent of women identified with cervical disease.
“This is a big milestone in global health, because for the first time the world has agreed to eliminate the only cancer we can prevent with a vaccine and the only cancer which is curable if detected early”, WHO Assistant Director-General Dr. Princess Nothemba Simelela told a news conference.
“We have an opportunity, as the global health community, to end the suffering from this cancer.”
In latest figures, from 2018, 570,000 women acquired cervical cancer and 311,000 died. Without action to stop it, annual case numbers are projected to reach 700,000, with 400,000 associated deaths, by 2030.
Tackling the disease is expected to bring huge economic dividends because of the improved prospects for women’s participation in the workforce, with $3.20 returned to the economy for every dollar invested – or $26 once the benefits for families, communities and societies are factored in.
Cervical cancer is the fourth most common cancer among women globally. Death rates are three times higher in in low- and middle-income countries than in high-income countries.
The disease is caused by two types of human papilloma virus (HPV), a sexually-transmitted infection that exists in more than 100 different forms, with symptoms that can be painful and stigmatizing.
“There are already three vaccines available to combat HPV and several more in the pipeline, but currently their availability is skewed towards richer countries, and the world needs to come together to help poorer countries get access to vaccines,” said Dr. Simelela.