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The World Health Organisation (WHO) has officially adopted an Australian-sponsored resolution aimed at eliminating cervical cancer worldwide. 

The adoption of the Global Strategy on the Elimination of Cervical Cancer, which was first proposed during the 73rd World Health Assembly in May, has been applauded by activists as a vital step in lessening health inequalities for women globally. 

The strategy seeks to eliminate cervical cancer as a public health concern across the world and focuses on three key pillars — preventing cervical cancer through widespread HPV vaccination, screening precancerous lesions and managing and treating invasive cervical cancer. 

WHO Director-General Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus has called on states to follow the 90-70-90 targets.

“Ninety percent of girls should be fully vaccinated by 15 years of age, 70% of women should be screened at least twice with a high-performance test by age 45 and 90% of women with precancer or cancer should receive the appropriate care and treatment, including palliative care,” Dr. Tedros explained during a WHO video. “We believe all countries can meet these ambitious goals.”

Cervical cancer is the fourth most common cancer among women globally.

In 2018, over 300,000 women died from the disease, the majority in low- and middle-income countries.

If 78 of the poorest nations are able to commit to the vaccination, screening and treatment targets, 70 million cervical cancer cases could be averted, and 62 million lives could be spared, according to Cancer Council New South Wales.

Australia has long been regarded as a world leader in cervical cancer prevention. In 2017, Australia became one of the first nations to offer HPV-based cervical screenings — an accomplishment introduced four years after the country’s free HPV vaccination program expanded to include boys because they can be HPV carriers.

As a result, Australia has one of the lowest cervical cancer mortality rates globally. The country is also on track to be the first in the world to see cervical cancer categorised as a rare cancer as opposed to a common disease.

Marion Saville, the executive director of VCS Foundation, an organisation advocating for the elimination of cervical cancer worldwide, said it is vital Australia use its position to inform and protect vulnerable individuals in the Asia-Pacific and beyond. 

"It is imperative that we offer our support to less well-resourced countries to scale up HPV vaccination and cervical screening,” she said in a media release. “Solutions must be locally driven to ensure they are acceptable and suitable for local populations and health systems. Australia can offer assistance by providing technological expertise and sharing knowledge.”

In 2012, Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance, a health partnership that works to ensure the world’s most vulnerable children receive life-saving immunisations, made the HPV vaccine available to lower-income nations for as little as $4.50 per dose. 

Helen Evans, a member of the advisory council of Pacific Friends of Global Health, applauded both Gavi and the WHO for their continued dedication toward ridding the world of “one of the most preventable and curable cancers.”

"It was a major step forward when Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance made this vaccine available to lower-income countries,” Evans said in a Pacific Friends of Global Health media release. “Now this WHO endorsed resolution, sponsored by the Australian Government, is a further big step toward elimination.”


Defeat Poverty

WHO Adopts Cervical Cancer Elimination Strategy Following Australia-Led Resolution

By Madeleine Keck