SEATTLE — AIDS is a global pandemic, ranking high on the U.N.’s list of diseases to be eradicated by 2030, but sub-Saharan African women are additionally burdened by the threat of cervical cancer. In hopes of mitigating the disproportionate rates of women living with HIV being affected by cervical cancer, the United States President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR), the George W. Bush Institute and the Joint United Nations Program on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS) have launched the Partnership to End AIDS and Cervical Cancer.
The Partnership to End AIDS and Cervical Cancer is set to be implemented in eight countries: Botswana, Lesotho, Malawi, Mozambique, Namibia, Swaziland, Zambia and Zimbabwe. According to UNAIDS, more than 3.5 million women are HIV-positive in these nations and are close to five times more susceptible to cervical cancer. Despite cervical cancer having affordable screening methods and treatments, due to a lack of access to such services, the survival rate is low.
This stems from low investment in the healthcare sector of the region. As women are not informed, they do not actively seek help, and even when they do, they are often denied it on the grounds of not looking “sick enough”. More importantly, there are not enough medical centers equipped to screen and diagnose women with cervical cancer, often leading to them suffering in silence. Hence, despite Western women having a 95 percent survival rate after being diagnosed with stage one cervical cancer, the survival rate for women in sub-Saharan Africa is only 60 percent.
Today, AIDS and cervical cancer remain the top causes of death in sub-Saharan Africa and are disproportionally responsible for the mortality of women of reproductive age. This has led to a drastic decrease in human capital that affects the productivity of businesses and the net income earned by households. More importantly, with more women of reproductive age being affected by AIDS and cervical cancer, there is an uneven population distribution, which can pose long-term problems for the region. With the existing population unable to earn high wages and a new population still taking time to emerge, poverty, instead of property, gets passed down and continues to worsen.
Recognizing these challenges, sub-Saharan African nations have increased their spending on healthcare and saw a growth rate of 11.4 percent between 2000 and 2010. There has also been an increase in political commitments to accessible healthcare and domestic resource flows. Yet, the rate has not grown since, and inadequate healthcare continues to starve African countries of ripe human potential. In such circumstances, when governments commit wholeheartedly only to see no results, the only saving grace comes in the form of international aid.
The Partnership to End AIDS and Cervical Cancer
The partnership’s aim to integrate cervical cancer into AIDS screenings is part of a broader reproductive health program. The Partnership to End AIDS and Cervical Cancer is set to expand on the existing successful efforts of the Pink Ribbon Red Ribbon initiative, a collaboration between the public and private sector that has worked in the region for the past seven years. The United States government is set to invest an initial $30 million through PEPFAR to increase cervical cancer screenings among HIV-positive women and the provision of vaccinations against the human papillomavirus (HPV) to prevent cervical cancer. This investment route is supported by UNAIDS’ report that early detection and treatment of cervical cancer can boost a woman’s chance of recovery and give them a five-year survival rate of almost 100 percent.
The partnership is also making moves to strengthen domestic government involvement and ensure that its policies yield results. For instance, the George W. Bush Institute announced that the newly-formed Bush Institute Global Health Advisory Council will advise and aid investments in global health to raise awareness about cervical and breast cancer in sub-Saharan Africa. It also intends to draw more support from NGOs and the private sector.
Apart from this, the partnership will also interact with the local governments to make sure that women and girls suffering from AIDS are a national priority for cervical cancer screening and prevention and for receiving HPV vaccinations. To do so, it intends to host global health experts, funders and ministers to analyze the current situation in sub-Saharan Africa. This will help determine realistic goals to ameliorate the risk of cervical cancer among HIV-positive women while strengthening existing efforts made by sub-Saharan African governments.
To Live, Happily Ever After
Women suffering from AIDS and cervical cancer, or at the risk of doing so are already much better off today. Project Concern International (PCI) has partnered with Pink Ribbon Red Ribbon to launch mobile screenings for women living in rural areas of Zambia. Through advocacy in communities and through women’s groups, Pink Ribbon Red Ribbon has successfully brought cervical cancer screenings to where they are most needed and has helped 15,000 Zambian women since 2011. The organization has also successfully established cancer control policies and guidelines and worked with the CDC Foundation and the World Health Organization to create an innovative toolkit to evaluate the performance of cervical cancer programs that are yet to be released.
In light of these success stories, the Partnership to End AIDS and Cervical Cancer will only enhance existing measures and ensure their long-term effectiveness. The regulations of the project ensure that the international funding coming in positively affects the healthcare system and can even give countries the opportunity to think about sustainable social protection, such as health insurance. With so much being done, more families can secure their futures by leading healthy lives that enable them to work and earn for a long period of time. Choosing to fight AIDS and cervical cancer together saves lives and helps people escape the grasp of poverty.
– Sanjana Subramanian