By Kathy Vizas, TogetHER Co-Founder & Maverick Collective Founding Member and Celina Schocken, Executive Director, TogetHER
“Let’s beat cervical cancer,” WHO Director-General Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus exclaimed at the World Health Assembly on May 22. With a concerted, focused push we can save the lives of over 283,000 women who die each year from this disease. Beating cervical cancer is attainable because the tools to prevent it are simple, effective, and inexpensive.
As longtime women’s health advocates, we recently formed TogetHER, a global partnership focused on building a movement to end cervical cancer. Working with PSI and others, we have witnessed firsthand that when program implementers, advocates, donors, and policy makers focus attention on opportunities to address cervical cancer, and work collaboratively, needless deaths are prevented. TogetHER aims to be the glue that brings this movement together.
Scaling up access to prevention tools is critical. Girls need access to safe and effective vaccines against Human papillomavirus (HPV), which is the major cause of cervical cancer. Women should receive routine screening to identify precancerous lesions, and immediate treatment when precancer is detected. Both are inexpensive. Direct medical costs of the “screen-and-treat” approach can amount to less than USD 25 per precancer case in low-resource settings, and a complete, two-dose HPV vaccination to protect one adolescent girl is available in low-income countries for about USD 9.
TogetHER seeks to improve access to these prevention tools by integrating cervical cancer screening into other healthcare services. HIV increases a woman’s vulnerability to cervical cancer, so it is logical to connect services for cervical cancer and HIV/AIDS. Family planning services also complement cervical cancer services, as PSI found in Uganda, where uptake of both services increased considerably when they were provided together in clinics. Screening should be available for all women.
Alongside the scale-up of existing tools against cervical cancer, TogetHER is fostering the development and introduction of new diagnostic and treatment tools to reach more girls and women with even greater impact, and at even lower cost.
TogetHER will bring together partners working to eliminate cervical cancer as a public health threat. The WHO Director-General’s call to action is an opportunity to focus our efforts on the most effective ways to prevent this type of cancer. TogetHER is answering the call, and together we aim to end cervical cancer.