SATURDAY, March 8, is International Womenâ€™s Day. The day is an opportunity to assess womenâ€™s global and national advancements in achieving equality, peace and development. Representatives from member states of the United Nations gather in New York for the Commission on the Status of Women to dis
SATURDAY, March 8, is International Womenâ€™s Day. The day is an opportunity to assess womenâ€™s global and national advancements in achieving equality, peace and development. Representatives from member states of the United Nations gather in New York for the Commission on the Status of Women to discuss financing for gender equality and the empowerment of women. Delegates pledge to increase resources to close the gap between rich and poor countries.
Cervical cancer is one of the major health risks facing women. Today we have powerful tools that can reduce the risk of cervical cancer. We must make these tools available to women in the developing world. Many cervical cancer cases occur because standard screening services such as Pap smears, are technically difficult and too expensive for widespread adoption in developing countries. Low-tech visual inspection methods provide a feasible alternative for early detection of cervical cancer.
Each year, 500,000 women are diagnosed with cervical cancer globally, 85% of whom live in low-income countries where access to routine health care is limited. About 270,000 of these are likely to lose their lives to the disease. In Uganda, over 80% of women with cervical cancer are diagnosed with advanced disease. They occupy one-third of gynecological beds at Mulago Hospital, and account for over 40% of radiotherapy patients. Cancer patients are stigmatised in society. They often do not go to health facilities, but stay home and die painfully.
Although remarkable progress has been made to reduce cervical cancer among women in the developed world through screening services and treatment, poorer countries have not shared these gains.
Nearly all cervical cancer is caused by the Human Papillomavirus (HPV). The world now has HPV vaccines that can potentially prevent up to 70% of cervical cancers among vaccinated women. These vaccines could play an important role in primary prevention of cervical cancer. However, they are currently unaffordable in low-income countries. It is an unfortunate that new health interventions often take many years to reach the people who need them most. With the HPV vaccine, Uganda is taking an important first step to learn about speedy and effective delivery to its young women and girls who need the vaccine.
The Government and international NGO PATH are studying strategies to reach girls with the HPV vaccine, and for linking vaccine delivery to other youth health services. The project will involve vaccinating girls in the Ibanda and Nakasongola districts using a vaccine licensed in many countries, including Uganda. Project implementers are working with all stakeholders to ensure their support and participation in HPV vaccine introduction. It is our hope that this project will pave the way for national roll-out of the HPV vaccine. This dream will not be realised unless the vaccine is made available at an affordable price. Without broad access to HPV vaccines and effective, low-cost screening tools, it is projected that by 2050, more than a million women will suffer cervical cancer annually.
We call upon stakeholders to raise their voices to prevent cervical cancer in the developing world. Civil society groups can mobilise communities. Policy leaders can make decisions on providing interventions in their countries. Global players, including pharmaceutical companies, the GAVI Alliance, and other donor agencies can enact innovative strategies for making prevention tools affordable and accessible in developing countries.
We must reduce health inequities between the rich and the poor. A significant first step is being taken in Uganda, but much more must be done. Every woman in the world has the right to prevention. Given the tools that are available, even one cervical cancer death is too many.
The writer is the Ntenjeru County North MP
Women need vaccination against cervical cancer