17 November 2020 | Statements

Unitaid supports the WHO’s cervical cancer elimination strategy launch

Geneva – Unitaid is delighted to give its support to today’s launch of the WHO’s Global Strategy to Accelerate the Elimination of Cervical Cancer – the first time the world has ever committed to eliminating a cancer.

Unitaid’s chair Marisol Touraine has come together with WHO Director General Dr Tedros, Dr Princess Nono Simelela, the First Ladies of Rwanda and South Africa and many others to get behind this ambitious, life-saving strategy.

The facts are sobering. Cervical cancer is the fourth most common cancer affecting women, killing more than 300,000 every year. Nine out of ten women who die from cervical cancer are from low- and middle-income countries, and women living with HIV are six times more likely to develop cervical cancer.

When the WHO first made a rallying call to action in 2018, Unitaid mobilised quickly to invest more than US$60 million with the clear goal of making life-changing improvements in the screening and treatment of women with cervical cancer – particularly targeting those in high-burden countries who do not have access to vaccination.

Unitaid is now the largest funder of innovative tools to find and treat precancerous lesions in women living in low-resource settings. These investments have laid a firm foundation for the elimination strategy, and Unitaid remains on-target to reach one million women within three years, with an estimated 100,000 additional lives saved over eight years.

Our partnerships with CHAI, Expertise France, Jhpiego and UICC focus on introducing innovation and making it accessible and affordable. Many of the successful techniques for reducing cervical cancer in high-income countries are difficult to transfer over to low-and-middle income countries, so Unitaid’s fresh and targeted approach has transformational potential.

We have already made significant progress towards our ambitious goal of delivering screening and treatment for less than US$1 per woman. Thermal Ablation devices are now available for less than US$900, representing an average price reduction of 50%.

With these more affordable devices, treating one woman will become not only faster (1-2 minutes versus 15 minutes) but also easier, thanks to the use of a battery-operated handheld device, rather than a heavy container that requires compressed gas. Overall, it is almost ten times cheaper than cryotherapy, the previously-used treatment.

Our investments have also resulted in HPV testing prices coming down by a third, which will give more women access to screening and help embed this in national government’s health systems in a sustainable way.

Chair of Unitaid’s Executive Board, Marisol Touraine said: “No woman or girl – irrespective of where they are born or where they live – should fall prey to cervical cancer. We cannot see cervical cancer as a death sentence because it is one of the most preventable and treatable cancers. I call on all countries, organisations and partners to make our objectives a reality by fully engaging to concretely implement these solutions for the most vulnerable countries.”

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Media contact: Charlotte Baker | +44 7904 460 181 | bakerc@unitaid.who.int

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