Eliminating global cervical cancer: now is the time

This month we feature another guest column, this time by Jennifer Smith, PhD, who is an associate professor of epidemiology and director of the Cervical Cancer-Free Initiative in the Gillings School of Global Public Health

On Tuesday, September 13, Dr. Myron Cohen and I traveled to our nation’s capital to attend what was for me one of the most inspiring global health meetings of 2011: The Summit to Save Lives, hosted by the George W. Bush Institute.

Laura Bush and Jennifer Smith at the Summit to Save Lives

We were among some of the nation’s leading global health experts, including Anthony Fauci of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases; the current and former U.S. Global AIDS coordinators, Eric Goosby and Mark Dybul; and Nancy Brinker, founder of Susan G. Komen for the Cure. In addition, former President George W. Bush, former First Lady Laura Bush, former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, and Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton were also present and gave inspiring speeches in support of global health.

In many ways, we have made a lot of progress and have a lot to be thankful for. For global HIV prevention, President George W. Bush’s PEPFAR programs provide HIV screening and antiretroviral treatment to people around the world and by most accounts has been a tremendous success. For example, PEPFAR directly provided life-saving antiretroviral treatment to 3.2 million people worldwide in FY 2010 alone. Further, the HIV prevention study, HPTN 052, led by our own Dr. Cohen, showed these life-saving drugs have a clear secondary public health benefit by preventing HIV transmission in couples.

But increasingly, global health experts are turning their attention to the rise of non-communicable diseases (NCDs) in the developing world. In fact, as I write this, the United Nations is holding a summit on the global burden of NCDs, including heart disease, diabetes, and cancer. At the Bush Institute summit, however, we heard inspiring news about global cancer prevention.

Hillary Clinton announced Pink Ribbon Red Ribbon®, a new women’s health initiative, which will begin providing cervical and breast cancer screening and treatment to women enrolled in U.S.-funded PEPFAR clinics in Africa and Latin America. This will be one of the most comprehensive programs to date to reduce cervical and breast cancer among HIV-infected women in resource-constrained countries.

The partnership will leverage the platform and resources of PEPFAR—established under President Bush and a cornerstone of President Obama’s Global Health Initiative (GHI)—and, with initial commitments of $75 million over five years work to achieve the following goals: reduce deaths from cervical cancer by an estimated 25% among women screened and treated through the initiative; significantly increase access to breast and cervical cancer prevention, screening and treatment; and create innovative models that expanded and implemented globally.

These new efforts have the potential to dramatically reduce invasive cervical cancer, since effective screening can detect precancerous lesions at an early stage and can be easily treated. Cervical lesions and invasive cancer are more common among women with HIV. As President Bush said, it’s not enough to save a woman from AIDS only to let her die of cervical cancer. Here at UNC, we have started the Cervical Cancer Free Initiative in the Gillings School of Global Public Health. We are beginning activities in North Carolina and six partner states: Alabama, California, Indiana, Kentucky, and Texas.

This initiative will develop various interventions, including evaluation and education programs, with the goal of increasing HPV vaccination among girls and young women ages 10-18 (HPV is the leading cause of cervical cancer) and cervical cancer screening among women ages 25-64 who have not been screened in the last four years.

At the summit meeting, Condoleezza Rice was eloquent in her summary of the new Pink Ribbon Red Ribbon® initiative. She said that her support for the original PEPFAR program because of its aim to extend a person’s life span, just as breast cancer treatment extended the life of her own mother. Initiatives like these, she said, represented America’s vision to make the world better than it is today.

This is a real opportunity to make a real difference. Given the available prevention and treatment tools, now is the time to act to prevent global cervical cancer and aim for its elimination.

Each month, Dr. Cohen writes a “Global Health Update” column for the UNC Global Newsletter. We reprint the item here.

2 Responses to Eliminating global cervical cancer: now is the time

  1. GIAHC says:

    You will be interested in The Global Initiaitive Against HPV and Cervical Cancer (http://giahc.org/). Please contact us at giahc@nccc-online.org for further details.

  2. Pingback: Bush in Zambia Parham | GH Notes | Institute for Global Health & Infectious Diseases

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