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

The prioritization of cervical cancer at a regional level through the Framework for Pacific Regionalism has provided a unique opportunity to tangibly meet the challenge of cervical cancer in our region. And this prioritization is consistent with the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals – particularly goals three (good health and well-being) and five (gender equality), which make reference to cervical cancer. The prioritization of cervical cancer at a regional level that has been made possible will ensure that the percentage of Pacific Island countries that have introduced HPV vaccinations into their national immunization programs will rise from 60 percent to 80 percent. This is a terrific boost to the health and well-being of women across the region.

Moving forward

The Forum leaders’ decisions on cervical cancer, current work by Pacific countries in delivering on the health priorities under the Forum Leaders Gender Equality Declaration, as well as the Sustainable Development Goals, all provide pathways to ensure our women live healthy lives. The leaders of the Pacific Islands Forum have called for adequate funding support to ensure reproductive health (including family planning), education, awareness and service programs are implemented.

Current efforts across the region to address cervical cancer will ensure that the risks are addressed. The current decisions by Forum leaders provide options for accessing vaccinations for all women. “Survive, thrive, transform,” which is the Every Woman, Every Child Global Strategy, and its overarching objectives, are to end preventable mortality and to ensure that women, children and adolescents enjoy good health while playing a full role in contributing to transformative change and sustainable development.

The scarcity of effective services in low- and middle-income countries is not primarily a result of lack of understanding of the disease or how it can be prevented. Rather, it often results from a failure to launch or expand prevention programs due to the absence of dedicated funding, along with a lack of recognition of the urgent need to update policies and practices that hinder access to services. This is the case even though vaccination, screening and preventive treatment are relatively simple and inexpensive to organize and implement at all resource levels, and cervical cancer screening has been acknowledged as a highly cost-effective intervention. Because of this, there is also an attempt to develop a regional policy guideline for the prevention and treatment of cervical cancer in the Pacific, which countries can utilize to guide the development of their own national policy guidelines. Screening and prevention of cervical cancer in many Pacific Island countries is currently ad hoc and opportunistic, due to the absence of informed policy and programming that would allow for a systematic approach to address the disease. 

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