The Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) says Ministers of Health of the Region of the Americas, including the Caribbean, have agreed to implement a series of strategic actions to reduce new cases of cervical cancer and the resulting deaths by one third by 2030.
PAHO said 35 countries and territories of the Western Hemisphere on Wednesday adopted the Plan of Action for Cervical Cancer Prevention and Control 2018-2030 at PAHO’s 56th Directing Council meeting here.
“No woman should die from cervical cancer, which can be prevent, detected at early stage, and treated effectively,” said PAHO’s Director, Carissa F. Etienne. “Reducing the burden of cervical cancer is possible and the plan approved today is an expression of the countries’ pledge to accomplish this,” she added.
PAHO said cancer is the second leading cause of death in the Americas.
In 11 countries, it said cervical cancer is the leading cause of cancer deaths among women; and, in 12 countries, it ranks second.
Each year, an estimated 83,200 women are diagnosed, and 35,680 women die from this disease in the Region, 52 percent of them before age 60.
By adopting the action plan, PAHO said the countries have agreed to improve the effectiveness and organization of cervical cancer programs, and information and record-keeping systems, and to strengthen primary prevention with the HPV vaccine and information/education campaigns.
They have also committed to implementing innovative strategies to improve cervical cancer screening and the treatment of precancerous lesions, PAHO said.
It said efforts will also be made to improve access to services for cancer diagnosis, treatment, rehabilitation and palliative care.
But PAHO said inequitable access to prevention, diagnosis and treatment is “a major challenge.”
PAHO said cervical cancer affects more indigenous women, people of African descent, and people living in less developed areas, as well those with lower socioeconomic, educational and income levels.
To reduce the burden of cervical cancer, PAHO said the plan of action includes a target of vaccinating more than 80 percent of girls from 9 to14 years of age against human papillomavirus (HPV), the cause of cervical cancer.
The plan also proposes to screen at least 70 percent of women from 30 to 49 years of age and treat precancerous lesions in all women who need it, PAHO said.
“Only with community participation and the implementation of large-scale HPV vaccination programs, in addition to cervical cancer screening services that are accessible to all women everywhere, can we accelerate the achievements, prevent new cases, and save lives,” said Anselm Hennis, PAHO’s Director of the Department of Noncommunicable Diseases and Mental Health.
PAHO said HPV vaccine was first introduced in the Region in 2006.
It said about 31 countries and territories in the Americas include this vaccine in their national immunization programs.
But PAHO said vaccine coverage, with the required two doses, varies considerably from country to country and is generally lower than the ideal coverage needed for maximum effectiveness.
PAHO said cervical cancer screening is available in almost all the countries of the Region, with Pap tests most commonly used.
However, it said the HPV test, which is more effective, has only been adopted in nine countries.
“Expanding its use could improve effectiveness and coverage to reach the estimated 32 million women who need screening,” PAHO said.
“The plan of action establishes that detection by itself is not sufficient to prevent cervical cancer,” it added. “It is essential to treat the women who need it. However, there are gaps in access to these services.”
PAHO said another challenge that the plan addresses is limited access to palliative care, which only 10 countries in the Region report offering.