Despite there being an effective vaccine, cervical cancer kills more than 4,000 South African women, and an estimated 270,000 women globally, every year.
“Science has done its part, now we must all work together to ensure that physicians are given the tools and support to put this knowledge to work, saving lives,” said Professor Harald zur Hausen, who received the Nobel Prize for medicine last year for discovering the link between the human papillomavirus and cervical cancer.
He is in Cape Town for the FIGO World Congress of Gynaecology and Obstetrics where he lent his support to the launch of a global guidance document by the International Federation of Gynaecology and Obstetrics (FIGO). A new partnership between FIGO and the International Paediatric Association (IPA) was also announced at the conference.
Kills more women than breast cancer
Cervical cancer is the number one cancer killer of women in South Africa and the rest of the developing world. This is mainly due to poor screening and treatment facilities in these countries which mean that a cervical cancer is only detected at a developed stage, making it more difficult to treat – should treatment be available.
The cervical cancer vaccine overcomes the barriers of access to screening and treatment faced by women in the developing world. The vaccine provides near total protection against cervical cancer so women do not need these services for survival.
Implementing vaccine programmes
The ability to eradicate cervical cancer and save the lives of hundreds of thousands of women every year now lies in the hands of government who must ensure the vaccine is implemented into the service package of the public health system. In countries like South Africa with a public and private health system, private health professionals also have the responsibility of educating their patients about this vaccine.
Earlier this year the Department of Health voiced their intension to introduce the cervical cancer vaccine in the public sector. “It [the department] has to find the resources needed for the introduction of these vaccines,” reads a statement by the department.
Call to action
For FIGO, this new guidance is a springboard to action, calling on its membership to take a rights-based perspective and engage as physicians and as advocates to end this unnecessary disease.
“As physicians we must take responsibility for the human rights denied to women with cervical cancer diagnoses – and the right of all women to the highest attainable standard of health care in life. Controlling cancer not only prevents death and disability but also will create improvement in the health and well-being of families,” says Professor Joanna Cain, who spearheaded the effort to develop the guidance. “Only by taking a comprehensive approach that provides equitable access to vaccination, appropriate screening and effective treatment tailored to the needs of each region, country or culture, will there be progress in controlling cervical cancer.” – (Wilma Stassen, Health24, October 2009)
Cancer vaccine for all SA girls