WHO commits to eradicating cervical cancer worldwide

The plan is the first ever global effort to eradicate any form of cancer, and focuses on vaccines, screenings and treatments.

A logo is pictured on the World Health Organization (WHO) headquarters in Geneva, Switzerland.  (photo credit: REUTERS/ DENIS BALIBOUSE)
A logo is pictured on the World Health Organization (WHO) headquarters in Geneva, Switzerland.
The World Health Organization has announced a new mission to eliminate cervical cancer worldwide.
As part of the first ever global commitment to eradicating any form of cancer, the WHO's Global Strategy to Accelerate the Elimination of Cervical Cancer has three key steps: vaccination, screening and treatment.
These steps could cut new cervical cancer cases by 40% by the year 2050.
Cervical cancer is one of the most easily treatable forms of cancer if it be detected early and properly managed, but even late-stage diagnoses can be met with appropriate treatment. In addition, there are preventative measures that can be taken.
Virtually all of cervical cancer cases (99%) are linked to high-risk human papillomaviruses, better known as HPV. This sexually-transmitted disease is considered by the WHO to be "extremely common," but it can also to be combatted with vaccines.
Despite this, however, it remains the fourth most common cancer worldwide among women. According to the WHO, in 2018 alone, approximately 570,000 women worldwide were diagnosed with cervical cancer, and 311,000 died from it. By 2030, the WHO projects that the number of new cases could skyrocket to 700,000 and annual deaths to 400,000.
However, this is where the WHO's strategy comes into play: Vaccinate against HPV as a preventative measure; screen for cancer to catch it as early as possible; and ensure that adequate and appropriate treatment is given to those infected.
In order to meet these goals, the WHO strategy requires all 194 nations to meet several targets by 2030. These include 90% of girls worldwide vaccinated against HPV by the age of 15; 70% of women screened with high-performance tests by age 35 and again by age 45; and 90% of women with cervical cancer given proper treatment.
“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 Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said in a statement.
“But we can only eliminate cervical cancer as a public health problem if we match the power of the tools we have with unrelenting determination to scale up their use globally.”
“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 assistant director-general Dr. Princess Nothemba "Nono" Simelela explained.
“Critical developments include the availability of prophylactic vaccines; low-cost approaches to screening and treating cervical cancer precursors; and novel approaches to surgical training," she said. "Through a shared global commitment to the Sustainable Development Goals and leaving no one behind, the countries of the world are forging a new path to ending cervical cancer.”
But despite this being a landmark movement in the fight against cancer, the timing is particularly difficult as the coronavirus pandemic presents multiple challenges.
This is because of how it has effected numerous areas of life such as borders, medical services (including vaccines, screenings and treatments), education and the availability of equipment. This has notably made it difficult for women living in rural regions to travel for treatment, and has interrupted school vaccination programs.
But regardless of these problems, the WHO has urged that necessary precautions can be taken to ensure that vaccination, screening and treatment can still be carried out. And to mark this dedication, monuments and landmarks worldwide will be illuminated in teal, the color symbolizing the fight against cervical cancer, including Niagara Falls, the Dubai Frame and city skylines worldwide. A full list of landmarks illuminated can be seen here.
“The fight against cervical cancer is also a fight for women’s rights: the unnecessary suffering caused by this preventable disease reflects the injustices that uniquely affect women’s health around the world,” Simelela said.
“Together, we can make history: to ensure a cervical cancer-free future.”