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The World Health Organisation, WHO, logo seen at the United Nations in Geneva. (Photo: AP)
The World Health Organisation, WHO, logo seen at the United Nations in Geneva. (Photo: AP)

WHO launches strategy to eliminate cervical cancer; can India achieve the target

  • Health experts claim that in India, there is a lack of awareness about cervical cancer screening and hitches associated with the invasive nature of screening. Less than 30% of women in India aged 30-49 years have been screened for cervical cancer

NEW DELHI: The World Health Organization (WHO) on Tuesday launched a global strategy to accelerate the elimination of cervical cancer, aiming to reduce more than 40% of new cases and 5 million related deaths by 2050 with vaccination, screening and treatment.

For the first time, 194 countries, including India, have committed to eliminating the cancer following adoption of a resolution at this year’s World Health Assembly. The WHO said that by 2030 the countries should achieve a target of 90% of girls fully vaccinated with the HPV vaccine by 15 years of age, 70% of women screened using a high-performance test by age 35 and again by 45 and 90% of women identified with cervical disease receive treatment (90% of women with pre-cancer treated and 90% of women with invasive cancer managed).

The strategy also stresses that investing in the interventions to meet these targets can generate substantial economic and societal returns. An estimated $3.2 will be returned to the economy for every dollar invested through 2050 and beyond, due to increases in women’s workforce participation. The figure rises to $26 when the benefits of women’s improved health on families, communities and societies are considered, the WHO said.

Cervical cancer is a preventable disease. It is also curable if detected early and adequately treated. Yet it is the fourth most common cancer among women globally. According to WHO, without taking additional action, the annual number of new cases of cervical cancer is expected to increase from 5,70,000 to 7,00,000 between 2018 and 2030, while the annual number of deaths is projected to rise from 3,11,000 to 4,00,000. In low- and middle-income countries, its incidence is nearly twice as high and death rates three times as high as those in high-income countries.

The WHO strategy coincides with the coronavirus pandemic posing massive challenges to preventing deaths due to cancer, including the interruption of vaccination, screening and treatment services, border closures which have led to reduced availability of supplies prevented transit of skilled biomedical engineers to maintain equipment, new barriers preventing women in rural areas from travelling to referral centres for treatment, and school closures that interrupt vaccine programmes.

The burden of cervical cancer in India is huge and the road to achieve elimination of cervical cancer doesn't seem smooth. India recorded the highest estimated number of cervical cancer deaths in 2018, according to a research paper published in the Lancet Global Health.

The report--Estimates of incidence and mortality of cervical cancer in 2018: a worldwide analysis--also said India and China together made up for more than one-third of the global cervical cancer burden in 2018, with India contributing with 97,000 cases and 60,000 deaths, and China recording over 1,06,000 cases and 48,000 deaths.

Public health experts claim that in India, there is a lack of awareness abou cervical cancer screening and hitches associated due to the invasive nature of screening. Less than 30% of women in India aged 30-49 years have been screened for cervical cancer, according to a study by the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) in 2019, despite the disease accounting for the second highest number of new cancer cases and cancer-related deaths in the country.

Human Papilloma Virus or HPV vaccines for preventing cervical cancer are yet to be a part of the national immunisation programme in India, and only few states such as Delhi and Punjab have included it in their state health programmes.

The WHO has urged all countries to ensure that vaccination, screening and treatment can continue safely, with all necessary precautions. "The huge burden of mortality related to cervical cancer is a consequence of decades of neglect by the global health community," said Dr Princess Nothemba (Nono) Simelela, Assistant Director-General, WHO.


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