Saving our women and girls
July-September 2017
By: Meg Taylor

Cervical cancer is largely a women’s health issue, and with the current burden of other diseases such as noncommunicable diseases, the threat of cervical cancer is somewhat obscured in the Pacific region. Cervical cancer not only places a medical burden on the patient, but it also has added social and economic impacts, including for the patient’s immediate and wider family. Cervical cancer also places an unnecessary burden on our health systems, which in many cases across the Pacific are already severely under-resourced. Across the region, there is a strong call to meet the challenge of cervical cancer in line with the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals. Among them are goal numbers three (good health and well-being) and five (gender equality). The “Every Woman, Every Child Global Strategy for Women’s, Children’s and Adolescent’s Health” makes recommendations in terms of evidence-based health interventions, including those related to cervical cancer screening and management. 

Gender and economic equality

Gender equality is vital to health and to sustainable development more broadly. In many developing countries, cervical cancer is the number one cancer killer of women. An estimated 266,000 women die from cervical cancer every year, and we know that cervical cancer kills at a relatively young age. Families lose their loved ones, but they also suffer economic losses. Eighty-five percent of women who die from cervical cancer live in low-resource settings. It is an economic equity issue: cervical cancer is unequally distributed globally in ways that are unnecessary, avoidable and unjust.

The burden of cervical cancer reflects gender equity issues. Health systems in low-resource settings often do not provide sufficient or appropriate services for adult women, beyond pregnancy-related care. The burden of cervical cancer also reflects age equity issues: the same health systems seldom provide sufficient or appropriate services for adolescents, whether they be girls or boys. Women living with HIV are more likely to develop persistent HPV (human papillomavirus) infections at an earlier age and develop cancer sooner. Gender inequalities, limited access to sexual reproductive health services and high incidences of sexually transmitted diseases and HIV further increase the risk of cervical cancer for women and girls.

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