16 May 2022 | Press releases

Portable thermal ablation devices allow more women to access lifesaving cervical cancer prevention in countries where the majority of deaths occur  

Geneva – Global health agency Unitaid and the Clinton Health Access Initiative (CHAI) today released results from a two-year project to increase access to lifesaving treatment for cervical precancer in low- and middle-income countries.  

The white paper published today shows that thermal ablation, a portable and effective tool for treating cervical precancer, has the potential to substantially expand access in low- and middle-income countries where almost 90 percent of deaths occur. Although cervical cancer is preventable and curable, it continues to be a leading cause of cancer-related deaths for women globally. Each year 300,000 women die from the disease. Women living with HIV are at particularly high risk of illness and death.  

In response to the World Health Organization’s (WHO) call for the global elimination of cervical cancer, Unitaid has invested nearly US$70 million to increase access to life-saving screening and treatment tools that have shown to be better adapted for use in resource-limited settings than the current standard of care.  

Thermal ablation devices are easy to use and maintain and can be run on battery power, allowing them to be used at primary health facilities and in hard-to-reach settings. Following training, the devices can be operated by a broad range of health care workers, expanding the pool of staff who can safely offer treatment of precancerous lesions, which is critical in preventing the progression to cancer.  

Furthermore, with recently announced ‘access’ prices for thermal ablation devices, this treatment method is significantly more affordable than cryotherapy—the most common method of treatment in low-and middle-income countries.  

The devices are now available at the access prices through UNICEF Supply Division, a major new route for procurement, as well as directly through the manufacturers. This allows programs to affordably expand access, enabling more women to receive treatment following a positive screening result, saving lives, and helping countries to reach the goal of cervical cancer elimination. However, additional funding to support broader scale up of these devices is urgently needed so women everywhere can benefit.  

The outcomes are the result of a Unitaid-funded project led by CHAI in collaboration with governments in India, Kenya, Malawi, Nigeria, Rwanda, Senegal, Uganda, Zambia, and Zimbabwe to support procurement and roll out of thermal ablation devices, develop clinical guidelines, and train health workers on device usage. Across the countries, the project found that thermal ablation improved equitable access to treatment because it can be used quickly, safely, and effectively, even in the most remote clinics, reducing the number of patients lost to follow-up and reaching more women. Rapid treatment following diagnosis of cervical precancer is critical to cancer prevention.  

“When women have access to early screening and treatment, cervical cancer is one of the most preventable cancers,” said Dr Philippe Duneton, Executive Director of Unitaid. “With more affordable, portable devices that can be used in local health centers, we have the tools and the model that can deliver cervical cancer elimination. Now we need governments, with national and international partners to step in and step up to ensure this work benefits all women, everywhere.” 

CHAI Executive Vice President for Vaccines and Non-Communicable Diseases, Joshua Chu, stated, “This innovative project has shown that thermal ablation can be effectively and affordably rolled out across our partner countries. Most importantly, it is reaching more women with lifesaving treatment which will save lives and bring us one step closer to cervical cancer elimination.” 

Increased portability enables governments to offer treatment for precancerous lesions flexibly within either campaign-style screening models or at defined health facilities, leveraging community health services. Partner countries also reported that thermal ablation is easier to procure than cryotherapy as it requires coordination only with dedicated suppliers at standardized prices, rather than working with both device manufacturers and suppliers of gas cylinders (required for cryotherapy operation). Importantly, partner countries expressed that thermal ablation can be rolled out for a fraction of the cost of cryotherapy.  

The white paper shared today will help inform scale up in partner countries and roll out to additional countries.  

You can read more about the project findings here: 

Media contacts:

For more information and media requests:

Regan Lachapelle, Communications Director, CHAI, rlachapelle@clintonhealthaccess.org 

Maggie Zander, Communications Officer, +41 79 593 17 74, zanderm@unitaid.who.int 

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