17 November 2022 | Statements

Unitaid and global health partners reach 90% treatment target for women screened with cervical cancer in multi-country pilots 

Geneva – Global health agency Unitaid and its partners have developed and implemented a highly effective package of tools and strategies for cervical cancer prevention. Project sites in seven countries are already exceeding the WHO target to treat 90% of all women identified with pre-cancerous lesions by 2030, just two years after the launch of the WHO Cervical Cancer Elimination Strategy (17 November 2020). 

Funded by Unitaid and implemented in partnership with the Clinton Health Access Initiative (CHAI) and the SUCCESS consortium (Expertise France, Jhpiego and the Union for International Cancer Control), the programmes in Burkina Faso, Côte d’Ivoire, Malawi, Nigeria, Philippines, Rwanda and Senegal are demonstrating a life-saving cervical cancer prevention model poised for broader – and urgent scale-up. 

These models integrate a package of preventive care using high-performance HPV screening and portable devices for treating pre-cancerous lesions into existing health structures to increase coverage and awareness. Implemented widely, the models can achieve the WHO target for pre-cancer treatment and contribute to averting nearly 65 million deaths from cervical cancer over the next century. 

The programmes are also progressing towards a second WHO target to reach 70% of women with high-performing screening by age 35 and again by 45, with more than 50% of women screened within the Unitaid-supported programmes having received an HPV test. In addition, three in four women receiving HPV tests are opting for self-sampling, which circumvents pelvic examinations that can be a deterrent to screening, confirming this method’s promise to extend access to even more women.  

HPV testing replaces a far less accurate, subjective screening method based on visual inspection of the cervix in countries that already have solid diagnostic network capacity. Hand-held, battery powered thermal ablation devices replace heavy cryotherapy containers that require compressed gas. These devices allow for treatment of pre-cancerous lesions in primary health centers and reduce treatment time to one to two minutes, compared to 15.  

To facilitate uptake, pricing agreements secured by Unitaid and CHAI have reduced the cost of thermal ablation devices by nearly 45% and HPV tests by nearly 40%. However, field data from countries show that the overall cost of thermal ablation is nearly ten times less than cryotherapy per woman treated.   

Cervical cancer is highly preventable when women have access to early detection and treatment. However, in low- and middle-income countries where nine out of 10 cervical cancer deaths occur, progress has been held back by a lack of awareness and financing, as well as high costs, ineffective screening methods, and poorly adapted treatment devices.  

“Unitaid and partners have delivered the models and technologies to make cervical cancer elimination a reality,” said Dr Philippe Duneton, Executive Director of Unitaid. “Now it comes down to access for all women. We must see concerted urgent action from governments and partners to scale up these models and bring an end to cervical cancer for generations to come.” 

“On this second anniversary of WHO’s cervical cancer elimination strategy, we applaud all those who are helping to make innovative technologies accessible, so that women everywhere can enjoy the fundamental right to healthcare that we all deserve,” said Dr Princess Nothemba (Nono) Simelela, WHO Assistant Director-General for Strategic Priorities and Special Advisor to the Director-General. “Unitaid and its partners are making a very important contribution to our collective mission – I hope even more supporters will take inspiration from the early progress and join us in the effort to scale up services.”   

Unitaid is the largest funder of innovative tools to find and treat precancerous lesions in women living in low-resource settings with nearly US$70 million invested. Projects in 14 countries are developing models for cervical cancer prevention adapted to low- and middle-income countries’ needs. 


ADDITIONAL QUOTES 

“As the world marks the anniversary of WHO’s Cervical Cancer Elimination Strategy Launch, CHAI celebrates the incredible milestones achieved over the past three and a half years thanks to Unitaid funding. We are committed to working with governments to expand equitable access to lifesaving health services for women and provide affordable and effective tools to reach those most in need. This is crucial to accelerate our progress toward eliminating cervical cancer as a public health issue. We hope our success so far will inspire more countries and partners to implement programs to help protect the health of women and provide better access to crucial treatments.” Joshua Chu, Executive Vice President, Vaccines and Non-Communicable Diseases, CHAI 

“The fight against cervical cancer is a fight against inequalities. Cervical cancer disproportionally affects women in limited-resources countries as well as women with disadvantaged social-economic status in high-income countries. Women living with HIV have a six-fold increased risk of developing cervical cancer compared to women without HIV. Despite being identified as an AIDS-defining disease in 1993, little has been done to address the need for cervical cancer prevention for women living with HIV. With Unitaid’s support, the SUCCESS project works on supporting governments and civil societies in lower- and middle-income countries to join forces of cancer and HIV national programs and communities. We focus on exploring people-centered and integrated interventions suitable for local contexts. Expertise France, through L’Initiative, is also contributing to this synergy by financing technical assistance, implementation, and operational research projects addressing HIV and HPV coinfections.” Dr Lisa HUANG, SUCCESS Project Director, Expertise France 

“We are seeing incredible progress on introduction and adoption of new secondary prevention approaches since the launch of the WHO Elimination strategy. This innovations journey underscores that healthcare system thinking is critical to see increased gains towards the elimination targets, and see cervical cancer prevention integrated and financed into routine women’s health and HIV services, and ensure the necessary communications, training, supply chain, and laboratory systems to scale and sustain this progress. Jhpiego continues to support government partners, providers, and communities to increase women’s access to prevention and treatment, and is thrilled over the progress with self-sampling for HPV.” Tracey Shissler, Implementation Director, SUCCESS, Jhpiego   

“The progress towards eliminating cervical cancer highlights what can be achieved in all income settings through effective financing, political will and on-the-ground expertise. In order to ensure that the gains made are secured for the long term, UICC will continue to work with and support its global network of member organisations and civil society more generally to fulfil their vital role in advocacy and hold governments to account.”Dr Kirstie Graham, Director, Capacity Building, UICC 


NOTES FOR EDITORS 

Cervical cancer statistics:  

WHO targets:  

To eliminate cervical cancer as a public health problem, all countries must reach and maintain an incidence rate of below four per 100,000 women. Achieving that goal rests on three key pillars and their corresponding targets:  

About Unitaid’s cervical cancer programmes  

Unitaid has invested nearly US$70 million to advance an effective package of tools and delivery models to support secondary prevention of cervical cancer in low- and middle-income countries. The projects are currently working in partnership with the governments of 14 countries – through CHAI in India, Kenya, Malawi, Nigeria, Rwanda, Senegal, South Africa, Uganda, Zambia, and Zimbabwe, and through the SUCCESS project in Côte d’Ivoire, Burkina Faso, Guatemala, and the Philippines. The SUCCESS project is implemented by Expertise France, Jhpiego, and the Union for International Cancer Control (UICC).


Media contacts

Hervé Verhoosel, Spokesperson Unitaid, mobile/whatsapp +33 6 22 59 73 54, verhooselh@unitaid.who.int  

Corina Milic, CHAI, cmilic@clintonhealthaccess.org 

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