Women’s Cancer Needs to Be a Global Priority: Why a Multi-sector Commitment Is Needed to Reduce the Burden of Women’s Cancers
Cancer is clearly a leading cause of death for women worldwide and the burden will only escalate without collective action and multi-sector leadership. In the face of scarce resources and competing health priorities, those of us in the voluntary health sector have a unique role to play in making women's cancer the global health and development priority it needs to be in order to save more lives. According to the International Agency for Research on Cancer, approximately 3.3 million women died from cancer in 2008 worldwide, corresponding to nearly 10,000 deaths per day. This number is projected to nearly double by 2030 simply due to the aging and growth of the population (women), with the potential to be even higher because of the adoption of high risk behaviors and lifestyle factors associated with economic development in most parts of the world.
The World Cancer Leaders’ Summit brings together leading global decision makers to influence international health policy and secure a strategic response to the global cancer epidemic. It allows for timely debate on emerging issues related to cancer and provides a forum to spotlight cancer as a major health issue, which demands a coordinated and multi-sectoral global response.
This year may have well been one of the most important years for those of us committed to fighting cancer globally. The UN High-level Meeting on Non-communicable Diseases (NCDs), which took place in New York on 19-20 September, represented the climax of two years of intense advocacy and diplomacy to establish cancer and the other NCDs as a global political imperative. Before then, cancer and other NCDs were side issues during a decade fixated with HIV/AIDS (the only other disease to ever be the subject of a UN High-level meeting that took place in 2001), TB and malaria, which in combination take centre stage in the Millennium Development Goals. But now wisdom is beginning to prevail as the UN recognises the devastating effects cancer and other NCDs have in every country–not just developed countries where one in two people are likely to develop cancer during their lifetime, but also in low- and middle-income countries where NCDs are rapidly becoming an epidemic debilitating a whole generation.
The GAVI Alliance's decision to support the introduction of the Human Papilloma virus (HPV) vaccine in eligible developing countries that need it is a very welcome development that will contribute substantially to the efforts of countries, particularly in Africa, striving to reach the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs).
Every two minutes a woman dies of cervical cancer. Not surprisingly, 90 percent of these deaths occur in the poorest countries where women often do not have access to screening tests and treatment or they are simply too expensive. Because of the lack of these services, vaccines against the Human papillomavirus (HPV) that causes 70 percent of cervical cancer cases can mean the difference between life and death.
Non-communicable Diseases (NCDs) are currently the leading cause of death in most countries. Deaths from NCDs have been rising in recent years and the World Health Organization has projected that the greatest increase in disease and death from NCDs over the next decade will come from the African region. In fact, NCDs are projected to surpass communicable, maternal, nutritional, and perinatal disease as the most common causes of death by the year 2030.
Professor Ian Frazer is the creator of HPV vaccine, the second cancer preventing vaccine. He was made 2006 Australian of the Year.
Over 85% of the 275,000 cervical cancer deaths every year are among women in poor countries, where women often lack access to cancer screening and treatment services. There, vaccines have a very important role in reducing the risk of this disease.