By Leslie Mancuso, Jhpiego CEO and President
Cervical cancer is a disease that while slow-growing, preventable and treatable, kills hundreds of thousands of women each year simply because of lack of access to prevention and treatment services.
The statistics are staggering. Cervical cancer is one of the most common cancers for women worldwide, with approximately 580,000 new cases each year and 260,000 deaths.
Eighty-five percent of these deaths happen in low-and middle-income countries, where the lack of access to preventive vaccines, screening and treatment means that most women discover they have cervical cancer only by experiencing symptoms, when the disease has reached an advanced stage.
This inequality leads to an 18-fold difference in mortality rates for cervical cancer between developed and developing economies.
What’s more, most of these deaths occur in women of reproductive age. Women who are leading productive lives, contributing to the workforce and economy, and caring for their families.
A woman’s death is more than a personal tragedy−it represents an enormous cost to her community and her nation.
Impact on a community
If a mother dies, her children lose their primary caregiver, families are denied her paid and unpaid labor, and countries forego her contributions to economic and social development.
A 2009 Economist Intelligence Unit report estimated the costs associated with new cancer cases to be at least US $286 billion per year.
While medical costs make up more than half of that economic burden, productivity losses account for nearly one-quarter of the total.
Simply put, the cost of inaction, both economically and in lives lost, is too great to ignore.
A comprehensive approach to prevent cervical cancer
We live in an exciting time for science and medicine. Today, we know more about the origins and treatments for diseases such as cervical cancer than in any other time in history. That information—coupled with the efforts of clinicians, policymakers and advocates from around the globe to increase awareness and access to prevention and treatment services—can lead us to a day where no women die from cervical cancer.
We are keenly aware that this silent killer cannot be stopped through one organization, government or intervention alone, but rather through partnership and a comprehensive approach that reaches all eligible women and girls.
We have the proven interventions—the human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccine to protect girls from HPV, the cause of almost all cervical cancer cases. For primary prevention, HPV testing for older women and increased access to same-day screening and treatment under the Jhpiego-pioneered single visit approach. And finally, workplace wellness programs and establishing tertiary care systems for women who develop cervical cancer and are eligible for surgery.
But we need to double our efforts, today. We need commitment from stakeholders to make these interventions available today, and a comprehensive road map to bring them to scale.
In the 21st century, women shouldn’t be dying from preventable, treatable diseases.
Dr. Mancuso discussed the global landscape of cervical cancer prevention and treatment at the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) Cervical Cancer Workshop in August23, 2016 in Peru and the Forum of African First Ladies Against Breast and Cervical Cancer in New York on September 19, 2016.