Deaths of 30 000 women can be prevented – WHO/Europe calls for more action on cervical cancer
Copenhagen, 19 October 2011
Last week, over 100 experts and policy-makers from 42 countries and 7 partner organizations gathered in Istanbul, Turkey to discuss the prevention of cervical cancer in the WHO European Region. This cancer kills 30 000 women in Europe every year – a preventable and unacceptable cost to society. An effective vaccine now exists to protect women against human papillomavirus (HPV), the primary cause of cervical cancer, and effective screening programmes can trigger life-saving action before the disease starts.
“We must be explicit in the message that vaccination and screening are about preventing cancer and saving lives,” said Gauden Galea, Director of the Division of Noncommunicable Diseases and Health Promotion at WHO/Europe. He added, “Given the technology and the level of development in our Region, women in Europe have a right to be protected from this cancer. It is not just a matter of public health; this is a matter of women’s rights.”
Participants in the meeting reviewed good practice in implementing and sustaining vaccination programmes, including the need for transparent communication on the HPV vaccine and messages tailored for specific target groups. Participants from Denmark and the United Kingdom stressed that communication about the vaccine must be well prepared and clear about its purpose: to prevent cervical cancer.
The experts shared their experience with screening programmes for cervical cancer and with the recent introduction of HPV vaccination into immunization programmes. Many countries reported progress. For example, the host country, Turkey, where cervical cancer is the third most common form of cancer, announced that it would launch organized screening for cervical cancer by the end of 2011 and introduce an HPV vaccine programme in 2012. Georgia has formed successful community coalitions against cervical cancer, and Finland and other countries have organized population-based screening programmes to radically reduce the risk of women dying from this preventable disease
The participants also acknowledged many persistent challenges in preventing cervical cancer, such as the significant impact of socioeconomic disparities in the Region on women’s access to screening services, the cost of vaccination and certain groups’ objections to vaccines. Strong political will, partnership with the community, evidence-based policies on vaccination, organized screening, the choice of affordable policies and sustainable financing, and a well-planned social marketing strategy will overcome these barriers and save the lives of tens of thousands of women.
The meeting encouraged participants to identify goals for their programmes for cervical cancer prevention in the next five years, as well as ways to measure their progress. The Action Plan for Implementation of the European Strategy for the Prevention and Control of Noncommunicable Diseases 2012–2016, which Member States in the WHO European Region approved last month, affirms the political commitment to improving the early detection of cancer.
The momentum created by political will and available methods of prevention should lead to the strengthening of comprehensive programmes for preventing cervical cancer and a drop in the number of women in Europe suffering and dying from it over the next five years.
For more information, please contact:
Dr Gunta Lazdane
Regional Adviser, Sexual and Reproductive Health
Tel.: +45 39 17 14 26, +45 29 43 49 41 (mobile)
Dr Rebecca Martin,
Programme Manager, Vaccine-preventable Diseases and Immunization
Tel.: +45 39 17 12 16, +45 51 20 18 83 (mobile)
Ms Viv Taylor Gee
Tel.: + 45 39 17 12 31, + 45 22 72 36 91(mobile)