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Commonwealth Members Asked To Take Action To End Cervical Cancer

Dr. Princess Nono Simelela, the Assistant Director-General for Family, Women, Children and Adolescents at the World Health Organization (WHO), said there is need for collective action to achieve the Commonwealth’s elimination targets by 2030 and achieve vaccine inequity in countries where the cancer burden is the highest.
Early cervical cancer testing is key towards its elimination

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Members of the Commonwealth have been asked to join efforts towards the elimination of cervical cancer by 2030.

The Commonwealth countries account for 40% of global cervical cancer incidence and 43% of cervical cancer mortality.

Cervical cancer researchers and policymakers meeting in the Rwandan capital Kigali said women in the Commonwealth continue to die of cervical cancer even when there is a proven preventive tool.

Dr. Princess Nono Simelela, the Assistant Director-General for Family, Women, Children and Adolescents at the World Health Organization (WHO), said there is need for collective action to achieve the Commonwealth’s elimination targets by 2030 and achieve vaccine inequity in countries where the cancer burden is the highest.

“We really should be very angry that in the 21st century we are still talking about women dying of cervical cancer when we have the tools, technology, and know-how to eliminate it,” added Dr. Simelela.

The known prevention she was referring to is the Human Papillomavirus (HPV) vaccine. The elimination of cervical cancer requires screening for pre-cancerous lesions. But in counties like Uganda and other Commonwealth countries many girls and women have not been reached.

Studies have shown that 13 percent of girls aged 9–14 years were vaccinated against HPV globally. Girls require a two-time screening in their lifetime to test for cervical cancer.

Dr. Simelela shared her experience having worked on women with cervical cancer in South Africa. 

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Dr. Ruth Kattumuri, the Senior Director of the Economic, Youth, and Social Policy Directorate at the Commonwealth Secretariat also stressed the urgent need for governments and health professionals to work together towards its elimination.

“Globally, cervical cancer is currently among the most pressing threats to women’s health. Of the four cancers affecting women globally, cervical cancer is the only one that has proven effective elimination strategies through the Human Papillomavirus (HPV) vaccine and early screening tools for pre-cancerous lesions," said Dr. Kattumuri.  

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The governments were urged to address the inequity of access to cervical cancer elimination tools, including ensuring equitable access to HPV vaccines and cervical cancer screening provisions, so that elimination can become a reality. 

Chemotherapy and radiation therapy are not biscuits 

Karen Nakawala, a Zambia-based cancer survivor sent shock waves among the delegates as she narrated her experience having gone through chemotherapy and radiation during treatment. Her message to women was simple to go and test because chemotherapy and radiation are not sweet like biscuits.   

"You don't want your child to go what we went through. So it's upon each and everyone to go out and spread the message about cervical cancer," said Nakawala, the founder and Executive Director of Teal Sisters Foundation Zambia.

Sex Talk With Girls

Dr. Princess Nothemba Simelela, sent the conference into murmuring as she suggested that parents should equally speak to their children about sex and sexuality issues which she said is taboo in most of the commonwealth.

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The Assistant Director-General for strategic programmatic priorities at the WHO, said: “If we imagine a world two decades from now, where young girls read about cervical cancer in the history books, that would be an incredible achievement, and that is possible.”

Experts are warning that if adequate steps are not taken to reduce the rising incidence of cervical cancer within the Commonwealth, the number of new cases of cervical cancer is expected to increase 55 percent to over 320,000 and deaths by 62 percent or over 186,066 deaths by 2030.

Delegates present and those attending said the governments should take steps to ensure that by 2025, girls in the Commonwealth have access to vaccination against HPV infection by age 13, in accordance with commitments made during the 33rd and 34th Commonwealth Health Ministers Meetings (CHMM), and country contexts.      

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