GENEVA – The World Health Organization’s 194 member states have agreed to push for the global elimination of cervical cancer, a disease that every year affects 570,000 women and kills more than 300,000. A new strategy to accelerate the elimination of cervical cancer was adopted at this year’s World Health Assembly.
Cervical cancer is a vaccine-preventable disease and curable if detected early and adequately treated. Health officials say the tools are available to eliminate this disease, the fourth most common cancer among women globally.
WHO’s three-point strategy calls for all girls to be vaccinated for HPV or human papillomavirus before age 15. It says women should be screened twice between the ages of 35 and 45 and those found to have the cancer should receive treatment.
WHO’s assistant director-general, Princess Nothemba Simelela, says new technology based on artificial intelligence can be used to screen women for cervical cancer.
“If these technologies are used, we would be able to get a diagnosis of cervical cancer within 15 to 20 minutes,” she said. “At this point in time, turnaround from the laboratories can be anything up to a month or longer and women do not get their results because most of them do not stay or live near a facility.”
Simelela says the rapid diagnosis will be a lifesaver for many women in developing countries. She says they will be able to be treated immediately on site for a pre-cancerous condition without having to return.
WHO reports sub-Saharan Africa has the highest number of cases and deaths from cervical cancer, followed by countries in Southeast Asia. Simelela warns cases and deaths will continue to rise in countries that do not invest in vaccines, screening and testing.
“The African continent is the only continent that will be reporting higher populations beyond 2030. So, they will be dealing with a double burden there in that they will be having a bigger number of young people to get to with the vaccine and a larger population of older women who will be having cervical cancer who have not been treated,” she said.
Cases and deaths in high-income countries are much lower than in low-income countries because of the wide use of the preventable vaccine, which can run as high as $110 a dose.
Simelela says developing countries can obtain the HPV vaccine at an affordable price of less than $5 a dose through the GAVI Alliance procurement system. GAVI helps vaccinate children against infectious diseases.