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

Given this, we need to employ a holistic solution to address cervical cancer, inclusive of comprehensive sexual reproductive health rights education, which is so important to such an approach. Cervical cancer is an avoidable tragedy because we know how to prevent it and we have the tools to overcome the social, economic and political disadvantage that is linked to disparities in cervical cancer incidence and mortality. The gender inequalities, roles and worldview of many of our women limit their access to information, services and agency. Women’s economic dependency and lack of access to financing further limits their access to expensive HPV vaccinations, screening and treatment programs.

Vaccinations save lives

Cervical cancer infection and spread is largely preventable through vaccination. The most successful primary prevention method, the HPV vaccine, is readily available and the World Health Organization estimates it has the potential to reduce the global burden of cervical cancer by between 70 and 80 percent. Following the introduction of the National Cervical Screening Program in Australia in 1991, deaths from cervical cancer halved, from four to 1.8 deaths per 100,000 women. 

A regional approach to cervical cancer across the Pacific could address this issue, particularly through collective bargaining and bulk purchase of vaccines, as well as through shared learning and support with regard to effective prevention policy. A current estimate of the cost of HPV vaccinations for 13-year-old girls for one year across all Pacific Islands Forum countries is $2.1 million. This is highly affordable, particularly if obtained through a regional bulk purchase approach. At the 2016 Pacific Islands Forum Leaders Meeting in the Federated States of Micronesia, leaders considered “the need for the development of a regional bulk procurement program for the cervical cancer vaccine (and screening and related equipment where possible).” Forum leaders highlighted an existing bulk procurement program managed by the United Nations Children’s Fund (Unicef) and urged members to avail themselves of this program.

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