Saving Every Woman and Every Child From Cervical Cancer

By Nana Kuo, Senior Manager Every Woman Every Child, Executive Office of the UN Secretary General; & Ann McMikel, Vice President, Global Partnerships and Planning, American Cancer Society

Keep your eye to the sky if you're in New York City tonight - the Empire State Building will be shining blue and orange in celebration of World Cancer Day. Cancer is a disease that has impacted many of us in some way, shape or form. It doesn't discriminate and knows no borders. And yet, the fight against cancer looks very different in some parts of the world than in others.

If you compare cancer rates in the developed world to those in lower-income countries, you'll immediately see a glaring contrast. Humanity has come a very long way in fighting this disease, but those who live in the developing world do not often benefit from or have access to the prevention and treatment breakthroughs that are available.

One strong example of this disparity is the burden of cervical cancer. Every two minutes around the world, a woman dies of cervical cancer, a largely preventable disease. This may come as a shock to some readers. In the United States and other high-income nations, cervical cancer rates have steadily declined, as we have been able to largely contain the disease thanks to the availability of screening, the HPV vaccine and other factors. Sadly, not all women have access to diagnostic services, lifesaving vaccines or effective treatment options, and as a result the unequal burden of cervical cancer is stark. In the poorest countries, where 85% of the cervical cancer burden lies, women are unnecessarily losing their lives to this disease because we have failed to close deadly gaps in prevention, early detection and treatment that could spare their lives.

It doesn't have to be this way. Investing in a world free of cervical cancer must be a global priority. The global cost of cervical cancer was $2.7 billion per year in 2010. This will rise to $4.7 billion by 2030. A new Harvard economic report commissioned by the American Cancer Society is currently underway to determine the exact price tag of what will be required over the next ten years to protect all women and girls in the developing world. Putting a dollar amount on this effort is critical so that it can become a reality. Consider that the U.S. spent $3.7 billion in 2015 to address the Ebola crisis. We know that financial commitments are necessary when it comes to protecting and saving lives.

Among the costs necessary to reduce the disparity of this disease is funding the universal availability of vaccinations and treatment. It is critical that all young adolescent girls receive the HPV vaccine and every woman is screened at least once between the ages of 30 and 49 --and that she has access to pre-cancer treatment, when necessary, no matter where she lives. These services can be effectively and affordably incorporated into the delivery of women's healthcare services, so they aren't stand-alone activities. And because of the risk for acquiring HIV along with HPV, and vice versa, action on cervical cancer will be a double win for the fight against HIV/AIDS.

Last September, all of the world's governments adopted the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, which aims to usher in a life of dignity for all people. The Sustainable Development Goals include an objective of reducing premature deaths from non-communicable diseases by one-third. The United Nations Secretary-General, Ban Ki-moon, is leading this effort with the launch of the Global Strategy for Women's, Children's and Adolescents' Health, and the Every Woman Every Child movement behind it, which are helping to achieve this objective by supporting countries towards building stronger health systems, universal health care coverage and the scaling up of life-saving interventions to reduce preventable deaths - including those from cervical cancer.

This year, and through 2018, the theme of World Cancer Day is "We can. I can." We are exploring how everyone - together and individually - can do their part to reduce the global burden of cancer. So what can we do to help close the global gap on the fight against cervical cancer?

• Educate yourself: Learn more about how cancer affects those in the developing world. The American Cancer Society's website and Cervical Cancer Action are great resources. You may also want to check out "Lady Ganga", a new documentary about one woman's battle with cervical cancer and her inspiring efforts to raise awareness of this disease throughout India.

• Raise awareness: Let others know that the global cancer disparity is an issue that is affecting millions of people and needs to be addressed. This could be as simple as sharing this post. Or, if you are in New York City, take a picture of the blue and orange Empire State Building and post it on social media with the hashtag #WorldCancerDay, #WeCanICan and #EWECisMe. Let your followers know what World Cancer Day is and why it's important.

• Commit to action: Organizations and countries can join the Every Woman Every Child movement and pledge to tackle cervical cancer and other issues affecting the health and wellbeing of women, children and adolescents.

Together, we can ensure girls and women have access to the vaccination, screening and preventive treatment that could save their lives. Let's fight this disease as one unified force, and one day bring an end to cervical cancer - and all cancers - once and for all.

For more information, please visit: Every Woman Every Child.