Cervical Cancer Deserves More Attention on the Global Health Agenda

Polis: Center for Politics
4 min readMar 14, 2024

Rani Bleznak (PPS ‘25)

Rani Bleznak (PPS ‘25)

While combatting cervical cancer remains a high priority issue on the global health agenda and has been properly addressed in high-income countries (HICs), it must be taken more seriously in low and middle-income countries (LMICs) as it can be easily managed if we focus on providing preventative resources. Experts often overlook LMICs when addressing health crises once HICs receive the essential assets to solve and treat them, yet global health problems impact everyone and must be treated universally. Cervical cancer remains the fourth most common cancer among women globally. Annually, there are around 600,000 cases globally, and over half result in death. This illness disproportionately impacts LMICs due to the limited availability of vaccines and treatment. However, it can be easily and cost-effectively preventable through human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccinations because HPV causes nearly 50% of cervical cancer cases. In 2020, LMICs accounted for 90% of deaths from this illness, demonstrating that, with necessary resources, we can minimize the effects of this disease. HPV transmits through sexual activity, and women with HPV are six times more likely to develop cervical cancer than those without it. Therefore, preventing cervical cancer starts with these cost-effective HPV vaccinations. In HICs, once girls ages 14–19 gained access to HPV vaccinations, there was a 56% decrease in the illness, subsequently reducing cervical cancer deaths. The lack of vaccinations and treatment against HPV and cervical cancer in low and middle-income countries proves that this is not only a global health issue, but an equity issue that must be tackled. Combatting cervical cancer must remain high on the global health agenda in order to gain equal access to save women’s lives globally and prevent other negative side effects, such as infertility and chronic illnesses.

To successfully distribute vaccines to LMICs, we must target vaccine companies and governments of HICs. First, we must encourage vaccine companies to adhere to the moral standard of saving lives. In addition, since global HPV vaccination on moral grounds may not be enough to convince vaccine companies, we must include financial compensation for their intellectual property. Finally, establishing a vaccination roster that allocates specific time for administering vaccines by community health workers, nurses and teachers is crucial to ensure the jobs get done and do not disproportionately burden any individual group.

To provide more power to global health experts to prove the necessity of this vaccine globally, we must secure funding, potentially from the World Health Organization (WHO), to provide them with the necessary resources. This will increase their expertise and ability to then inform community healthcare workers in LMICs. We can also empower local teenage girls by using resources to create a video taken at ground-level in LMICs to show why they need this vaccine. This can also be used to dissuade the media from covering opponents to this vaccine.

To mobilize players in HICs who are not yet organized on the matter, we must hold a conference led by teenage girls in HICs and invite the media. At this conference, they would vocalize ways the HPV vaccine made them feel safer and how they believe their counterparts in LMICs deserve this same medicine. This could simultaneously impact vaccine companies from HICs by evoking emotion and empathy.

To simplify this complex issue and manage public perception, we must use clear data and statistics to emphasize the necessity of distributing HPV vaccines in LMICs. WHO and the media must release the death rates, people at risk, and the ways by which HPV spreads (which involves both genders in most cases), to ensure that the public understands and acknowledges the urgency of the matter and the need for a solution.

Living in a globalized world means we are interconnected and interdependent regarding global health problems and solutions. Countries rely on one another for intellectual property, access to information and data, evidence-based policymaking, economic decision making, and political pressure. Responding to global health crises requires a united front, with nations acting in global solidarity. When nationalist leaders act on their own accord, they create barriers to global solidarity, negatively impacting responses to crises, as seen in the response to the COVID-19 pandemic. Globalization influences HICs and LMICs differently. HICs must provide LMICs with the necessary resources and infrastructure to combat global health issues, such as cervical cancer. HICs must be empathetic, culturally aware, and transparent to implement solutions in LMICs.

Rani Bleznak is from Wynnewood, Pennsylvania and an Undergraduate at Duke University’s Sanford School of Public Policy. This piece was submitted as an op-ed in the Spring ‘23 PUBPOL 301 course. This content does not represent the official or unofficial views of the Sanford School, Polis, Duke University, or any entity or individual other than the author.

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