Whilst we still have a long way to go, progress has been made on cervical cancer in the Commonwealth.
A blog by the Commonwealth Secretariat Health Team
This January marks Cervical Cancer Awareness Month. It provides an important opportunity to highlight the efforts that have been made to address cervical cancer in the Commonwealth, the advancements made and the milestones to come.
Commonwealth and cervical cancer
Over the last several years, the Commonwealth Secretariat has placed increased importance on addressing the Commonwealth burden of cervical cancer and, alongside governments and stakeholders, committed to working towards the elimination of the disease altogether.
The Commonwealth carries a significant cervical cancer burden, particularly in low and middle-income countries. Whilst the Commonwealth represents 30 per cent of the world’s population, it carries a 40 per cent share of global cases, and a 43 per cent share of global deaths.
If steps are not taken to radically reduce the rising incidence of cervical cancer within the Commonwealth, by 2030 the Commonwealth can expect the number of new cases to rise by 55% and the number of deaths to rise by 62%, with one woman dying in the 56 member countries every three minutes.
Cervical cancer elimination
Health Ministers expressed first a commitment to ensuring equal access to the Human Papillomavirus Virus (HPV) vaccine (most cases of cervical cancer are caused by the HPV virus) for young girls across the Commonwealth in 2021, revisiting it again in May 2022.
Recognising this as a significant issue, Commonwealth Heads of Government, at the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM) in Kigali, Rwanda in June 2022, committed to ensuring that all girls between 9 and 13 have access to the HPV jab by 2025. This landmark effort made by Commonwealth leaders highlights the Commonwealth’s preparedness and leadership in eliminating cervical cancer.
With just under three years left until the end of 2025 for the Commonwealth to attain this target, Commonwealth countries must work collectively and cooperatively to address the persistent issue of deep inequity preventing many girls receiving the HPV vaccine.
Elevating the cervical cancer agenda
Recognising that the HPV vaccine is just one piece of the puzzle, with equitable access to quality screening and treatment options remaining equally pressing, several high-level meetings have continued to take place to elevate the cervical cancer agenda in the Commonwealth.
During CHOGM, high-level advocacy events were conducted including at the Commonwealth Women’s Forum, the Commonwealth Youth Forum, and Commonwealth Spouses Forum. These meetings have helped to build a wide community of advocates and leaders, focused on raising awareness of the burden of cervical cancer and to continue to push for greater progress.
Key champions have been First Ladies and spouses of Commonwealth leaders, many of whom have already launched campaigns and initiatives in their countries, but who at CHOGM pledged to work together to champion cervical cancer elimination.
In November, as part of London Global Cancer Week, the Secretariat brought together Commonwealth high commissioners, cancer survivors, advocates, members from civil society, multilateral organisations and other key stakeholders to discuss the theme ‘The Road to 2025: Achieving Elimination of Cervical Cancer in the Commonwealth’. And in collaboration with Cancer Research UK, the Commonwealth Secretariat hosted an evening at the House of Lords to discuss the pressing health inequity issues that continue to act as a barrier to cervical cancer elimination.
Partnerships to accelerate elimination efforts
Further work has been done to address the myths and misconceptions relating to cervical cancer. In partnership with the Union for International Cancer Control (UICC), the Commonwealth Secretariat compiled a publication: Conquering Cervical Cancer in the Commonwealth: Addressing Myths and Misconceptions to help provide reliable and accurate information on cervical cancer and HPV.
As we start a new year, the Commonwealth is pleased to be launching other initiatives to address its burden of cervical cancer. This includes more collaborations with youth advocates, including at the Commonwealth Youth Health Network, strengthening its research outputs through partnership with Lancet Oncology, and working together with Commonwealth champions to accelerate elimination efforts.
The Commonwealth will remain a leading advocate and driver of the elimination of cervical cancer, and with the support of its International Taskforce on Cervical Cancer Elimination, the Commonwealth Secretariat will continue to develop tools and resources to support its landmark efforts.
- Report: Conquering Cervical Cancer in the Commonwealth: Addressing Myths and Misconceptions
- Commonwealth Secretary-General: ‘Equitable access to life-saving tools can make cervical cancer history’
- Towards a cervical cancer-free Commonwealth – multistakeholder collaboration is key
- A call to action to eliminate cervical cancer in the Commonwealth
- Amy Coles Communications Officer, Communications Division, Commonwealth Secretariat