WHO: Off-track progress in Africa could kill 70,000 cervical cancer patients

26 countries have introduced HPV vaccine, but just 31% girls under 15 received its first dose in 2022 in the African region  

By DTE Staff
Published: Monday 04 September 2023
Vaccination coverage should reach 90 per cent of women and girls in 20 countries by 2024 to meet 2030 global targets, according to the WHO. Photo: iStock

Around 70,000 cervical cancer deaths in Africa could be avoided each year if efforts to end the disease by 2030 are accelerated by ensuring increased access to critical services for timely detection, care and prevention. The region is home to 19 of the 20 countries with the highest burden of the disease globally.

Countries must act swiftly to bolster essential health services to adequately address cervical cancer in the region, said health leaders and donors meeting for the 73rd session of the World Health Organization (WHO) Regional Committed for Africa this week in Gaborone, Botswana. 

Countries must vaccinate 90 per cent of women and girls with the human papillomavirus vaccine in 20 countries by 2024 to meet 2030 global targets and achieve 70 per cent cancer screening, the WHO said in a press statement.

Read more: Cervical cancer: 90% deaths in low and middle income countries with least access to HPV vaccine, screening

Only 31 per cent of girls by the age of 15 in the African region received the first dose of the human papilloma virus vaccine in 2022, despite 26 countries in the region having introduced it at present. Just 16 countries have introduced HPV-based screening at the sub-national level, the statement added.

The countries must also have 90 per cent of women and girls with cancer on treatment by 2023, according to WHO global targets. The national screening rates for women aged 30–49 in at least 10 countries should reach 25 per cent and the percentage of women receiving treatment should also reach 25 per cent in these countries.

Cervical cancer control programmes receive insufficient financial and human resources as a result of governments’ low priority. The inability of health workers to provide comprehensive prevention and control services, as well as a lack of disease awareness and health literacy, along with the high cost of supplies and vaccines, all impede effective control, the WHO said. 

Read more: Climate’s clear connect: Healthcare systems resilient to global warming are a challenge for Africa

Nonetheless, the region has made strides in the fight against cervical cancer in recent years. Nearly 40 per cent of countries that provide the first dose of the vaccine to girls, for example, have reached 70 per cent coverage.

“Cancer illness is painfully devastating and affects families profoundly. But through early detection, care and prevention with vaccines, women and girls in our region can be protected from cervical cancer,” said Matshidiso Moeti, WHO regional director for Africa. 

Furthermore, collaboration with communities, youth organisations, nonprofits, and the private sector is critical in expanding access to cancer control services. Cervical cancer, which is primarily caused by HPV, is the fourth most common cancer in women worldwide, accounting for over 300,000 deaths each year.

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